Isro is going to break these previous satellite launch records with the PSLV-C37 mission

These are the current record holders for the maximum number of satellite launches that Isro is going to attempt to break with the PSLV-C37 mission.


Isro is going to set a new world record with the launch of 88 satellites on a single launch vehicle on 15 February, 2015.

Orbital Science Corporation, now known as Orbital ATK, launched 28 satellites on a Minotaur-1 rocket, a record matched by the 28 satellites for Planet Labs that were taken to the ISS on board Orbital's Antares rocket, and the Cygnus re-supply craft, both by Orbital Science Corporation.

The Russian Dnepr cluster mission launched 33 satellites. During the cold war, and before the advent of communication satellites, there was a Nasa mission in the 60s that launched millions of man made objects into orbit on board a single Atlas-Agena rocket.

Isro is going to break these previous satellite launch records with the PSLV-C37 mission

The Dnepr, Antares and Minotaur, the launch vehicles that previously set the record that Isro will attempt to break.

Orbital ORS-3 mission 2013

On 19 November 2013, Orbital launched a Minotaur-1 rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Faciltiy in Virginia, United States. On board were 29 satellites, which were successfully deployed into orbit, making it the record holder at that time. There were 28 student build nanosatellites, based on the CubeSat standard. One of the passengers on the mission was the TJ3Sat, the first satellite designed by high school students to be launched into orbit.

The Minotaur-1. Image: Orbital ATK

The Minotaur-1. Image: Orbital ATK

Most of the satellites were technology demonstration satellites. Firefly, a CubeSat on board designed by Nasa was one of the scientific satellites, which would study lightning flashes around the world. The primary aim of the ORS-3 mission was to test a number of new technologies that would boost the capacity for satellite launches, as well as make them cheaper. On board was a passive payload meant to accelerate the time required for the rocket to deorbit, and reduce the amount of junk in space.

The Firefly CubeSat. Image: Nasa.

The Firefly CubeSat. Image: Nasa.

The primary payload for the ORS-3 mission was the STPSat-3 by the US Air Force. There were five experiments on board STPSat-3, along with a number of sensors for taking various measurements in the space environment. More information about the record setting ORS-3 mission is available at reports of the launch in Space.com and Nasaspaceflight.com.

Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares Orb-2 Mission 2014

On 13 July, Orbital launched its Antares rocket with the Cygnus CRS Orb-2 mission, with 28 satellites by Planet Labs on board. The satellites were first taken to the International Space Station (ISS) on board Orbital's commercial resupply spacecraft, Cygnus. The fleet of 28 satellites, known as Fleet 1, were deployed in pairs from the Japanese Experiment Module airlock on board the ISS.

The Flock 1 by Planet Labs before launch. Image: Planet Labs.

The Flock 1 by Planet Labs before launch. Image: Planet Labs.

The launch is notable as the mission still holds the record for the largest number of satellites of a single constellation deployed in a single mission. This record too, will be broken by Isro's upcoming launch, with 88 satellites belonging to a single constellation, known as Flock-3p. The satellites deployed by the ISS as well as the satellites to be deployed in the ISRO PSLV-C37 mission are both CubeSats, each individually known as a Dove.

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A pair of Dove satellites being released by the International Space Station

The Dove satellites allowed for collection of data that lead to the development of newer and better CubeSats. The images taken from the Planet Labs satellites are available freely for anyone to use, and are particularly useful for disaster relief operations and improving agricultural yield in developing nations around the world. Below is a video of Orbital Dove satellites leaving in pairs from the ISS.

Dnepr Cluster Mission 2014

The Dnepr Cluster Mission by the Russian Space Program currently holds the record for the most number of satellites launched in a single launch vehicle. The PSLV-C37 mission by ISRO will break the record currently held by the 2014 Dnepr Cluster Mission. On 19 June 2014, a Dnepr launch vehicle blasted off from Yasny base in the Orenburg region of Russia. The launch vehicle flew in a sun synchronous orbit, and successfully deployed all 33 satellites on board.

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A Dnepr launch vehicle. Image: ISC Kosmotras

The satellites were from 17 countries. The biggest passenger was the Deimos-2 earth observation satellite from Spain, weighing in at 300 kg. KazEOSat from Kazakhstan weighing 177 kg, SaudiSat-4 weighing 100 kg were also payloads on the mission, both civil space observation satellites. Japanese satellites Hodoyoshi 3 and 4 were earth observation satellites on the mission, each weighing about 60 kg. Russia launched its own Sputnix technology demonstration satellite on the rocket, which weighed 25 kg.

A Brite satellite being tested in a lab. Image: Brite constellation.

A Brite satellite being tested in a lab. Image: Brite constellation.

The rest of the satellites on board were CubeSats. There were 4 CubeSats designed by universities in different countries, a pair of Canadian CubeSats that were part of the Brite constellation, which conducts experiments related to astrophysics. Two satellites in the Brite constellation were launched on a PSLV by Isro in 2013. There were 5 quadpack systems on board designed by ISIS from Netherlands, an agency that specialises in nanosatellites and CubeSats. 21 CubeSats and a nanosatellite from Argentina known as BugSat-1 were deployed by the quadpack systems.

Project West Ford 1963

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word satellite as "An artificial body placed in orbit round the earth or another planet in order to collect information or for communication." If any man made object for the purpose of communication is a satellite, then there has already been a launch of millions of man made objects on a single launch vehicle. In the height of the cold war, there were fears that Russia might cut undersea cables, which meant that bouncing signals off the unpredictable ionosphere was the only way for long distance communications.

The Project Westford needles. Image: MIT

The Project Westford needles. Image: MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came up with a plan of injecting 1.5 billion needles into space, called Project West Ford, to fortify the signal bouncing capacity of the ionosphere. Each dipole was 0.7 inches long, and only 0.0007 inches in diameter. A swarm of these dipoles were put into orbit by three Atlas rockets. The needles were injected into orbit before active space communications satellites were designed or launched. Because of concerns over polluting space with garbage and interfering with the observations of astronomers, the needles were put in an orbit that would allow them to safely de-orbit by 1965.

A Nasa Atlas-Agena rocket. Image: Nasa.

A Nasa Atlas-Agena rocket. Image: Nasa.

While one of the three launches failed to deploy the dipoles, two Atlas-Agena launches in 1961 and 1963 each managed to put into orbit 48 million copper needles each. There are still a few clumps of the needles from Project West Ford in orbit, tracked by Nasa which keeps account of all the pieces of orbital debris. Project West Ford was a demonstration of novel and cutting edge technologies, which required the development of new approaches even on ground. More information about project West Ford can be found in MIT lab notes (PDF).

PSLV C-37 mission, 2017

Isro's PSLV-C37 mission has just been scheduled for a mid February launch, provided the weather conditions are conducive to a spaceflight. The primary payload on board is the Indian Earth observation satellite, CartoSat-2D weighing 650 kg. There are satellites on board from The United States, Germany, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Satellites from Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates were also on the record breaking Dnepr mission which is the current record holder.

Isro's workhorse, the polar satellite launch vehicle. This is the PSLV-C27. Image: Isro.

Isro's workhorse, the polar satellite launch vehicle. This is the PSLV-C27. Image: Isro.

Isro has signed confidentiality agreements with some of the launch partners, but additional details on the satellites are expected closer to the launch date. Two Indian Nanosatellites, INS-1A and INS-1B are on board, along with 88 Dove satellites forming the Flock-3p by Planet Labs. The Doves are part of the constellation of 100 satellites which will image the Earth once every day, the other 12 have already been launched in the PSLV-C34 mission, also by Isro.

More information and confirmed details about the PSLV-C37 mission is available in coverage of the announcement of the launch date by Tech2.

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This story is a part of a series on the world record launch of 104 satellites on a single mission by Isro. The stories in the series are: 

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