India has successfully launched its first privately developed rocket, a milestone in the country’s effort to create a commercial space industry and to compete on cost.
Vikram-S lifted off at 11.30am (06:00 GMT) on Friday from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of southern Andhra Pradesh state, as part of a mission named Prarambh (the beginning).
“I am happy to announce the successful completion of Mission Prarambh, the beginning,” Pawan Goenka, who chairs the Indian government agency that coordinates private-sector space activities, said.
The 545kg (1,201 pounds) rocket, developed by space start-up Skyroot, hit a peak altitude of 89.5km (55.6 miles).
The rocket has the capability of reaching Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound – and carrying a payload of 83kg (183 pounds) to an altitude of 100km (62 miles), the company said.
The Skyroot team had set a target of 80km (49.7 miles) for its first launch, a benchmark some agencies define as the frontier of space. The Karman line – set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space – is at 100km altitude.
Video footage showed the rocket taking off from the space centre, leaving a plume of smoke and fire in its trail. It splashed down in the Bay of Bengal about five minutes after the launch, officials said.
Skyroot, which was started by Pawan Chandana and Bharath Daka, has set a target of cutting development costs by up to 90 percent versus existing platforms to launch small satellites.
It expects to achieve that cost saving by using a rocket architecture that can be assembled in less than 72 hours with composite materials. It plans launches capable of delivering satellites starting next year.
The Indian government has been pushing to develop a private space industry to complement its state-run space programme known for its affordable launches and missions.
India’s unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost only $74m and made headlines for costing less than the Academy Award-winning film, Gravity.
Until now, the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had a monopoly on launching rockets in India.
The Skyroot rockets are named after Vikram Sarabhai, the Indian physicist and astronomer considered the father of India’s space programme.
Hyderabad-based Skyroot, founded in 2018 and backed by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, was the first space start-up to sign an agreement to use ISRO launch and test facilities after the government opened the door to private companies in 2020.
It has raised 5.26 billion rupees ($64.42m) so far and employs about 200 people. Close to 100 people have been involved in its maiden launch project, the company said.