India has successfully launched its heaviest ever "indigenous" rocket, marking a major milestone for the country's low-cost space exploration program. The spacecraft could one day be used to carry astronauts to orbit.
The 43-meter (140-foot) rocket blasted of from the Sriharikota launch pad southeast in India on Monday, placing a 3,136-kilo (6914-pound) communications satellite into orbit.
In the past, India's space agency ISRO would use French-made rockets to carry heavy loads. However, their 13-story-high, 640-ton GSLV Mk III vehicle marks a new stage for nation's spacefaring ambitions, as it was designed by Indian researchers for transporting large devices and, eventually, astronaut capsules into orbit.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated ISRO in an online post.
The rocket boasts powerful cryogenic engines, which were also developed in India in a bid to reduce reliance on European propulsion technology.
"Communication satellites are quite heavy and we were able to send up to two tons previously," Ajay Lele from the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses told the AFP news agency. "This is a double quantum jump for India."
Growing space program
With the latest launch, ISRO moves closer to making India the fourth nation in the world capable of sending humans into orbit, alongside to the US, Russia and China. However, scientists say it will take another several years to achieve this landmark.
The agency's 2017 budget of $1.4 billion (1.2 billion euros) is dwarfed by NASA's $19.3 billion. However, ISRO drew global attention when it sent an unmanned mission to Mars for only $73 million in 2013. A comparable NASA mission cost $671 million.
India is also working on developing a reusable space shuttle to carry astronauts to space and back.
In February, ISRO set a world record by sending up a total of 104 satellites in a single launch.
dj/tj (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)