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India breaks world record with simultaneous launch of 104 satellites

India has successfully launched 104 satellites from a single rocket, setting a world record. Most of the orbiting hardware was made up of nano-satellites; the smallest weighing just over a kilogram.

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India launches record 104 satellites at once

Scientists at India's southern spaceport of Sriharikota applauded as the head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that all the satellites had been deployed into orbit on Wednesday.

"My hearty congratulations to the ISRO team for this success," the agency's director Kiran Kumar said to those tracking the progress of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations on the launch and ejection of satellites, which was covered live on national television channels.

The rocket was launched at 9:28 a.m. (0358 UTC), releasing all 104 satellites into orbit about 30 minutes later.

Its main cargo was a 714 kilogram Indian satellite to be used for Earth observation, but the payload also included 103 smaller "nano satellites," the smallest of which weighed only 1.1 kilograms.

Low-cost launches

Almost all the nano satellites come from other countries, including Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates. The majority, 96 in all, came from the United States.

The launch gives India - whose space agency is famed for trimming costs - the record for launching the most satellites at once, leaping ahead of Russia which launched 39 satellites in a single mission in June 2014.

India has developed a reputation for multiple satellite launches in recent years.

Breaking the record marks one further achievement for the ISRO, which sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars in 2013 at a cost of just $73 million. That figure is a little over a tenth of the cost of NASA's $671 million Maven Mars mission, and is three-quarters the budget of the Hollywood blockbuster Gravity.

The Mangalyaan space probe entered orbit around Mars in 2014, successfully beaming back pictures of the Red Planet.

rc/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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