PM Modi, Bhagwad Gita ride piggyback into space as ISRO's PSLV-C51 rocket launches Brazilian satellite Amazonia-1

Bengaluru: After the world’s largest cricket stadium in his name, Prime Minister Narendra Modi literally scaled new heights when a satellite launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation from the Sriharikota base on Sunday had his photo engraved on it to symbolise the PM’s Atmanirbhar initiative and space privatisation. And with this, ISRO began its 2021 space yatra in a unique way.

Along with Modi, timeless space also got an e-copy of the Bhagwad Gita which encompasss eternal values that lie at the core of Hindu religion.

The PM and the Gita rode piggyback on IN-SPACe satellites that included three UNITYsats from a consortium of Indian academic institutes and one Satish Dhawan unit from Space Kidz India. While this will study space radiation, space weather and demonstrate long-range communication technologies among other things, it has the engraved picture of Modi and an e-copy of the Gita, saved on an SD-card.

These satellites were part of the 53rd Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launch that happened at 10.24 am from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SAHR, Sriharikota. Its primary passenger was Brazil's 637-kg Amazonia-1, an optical earth observation satellite that would augment the remote sensing data to users for monitoring deforestation in the Amazon region and analysis of diversified agriculture across the Brazilian territory. Amazonia is the first commercial venture for NewSpace India Limited, the new marketing arm of ISRO that was created two years ago.

Amazonia-1, a sun-synchronous satellite, is the first one to be fully designed, integrated, tested and operated by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. It can generate images of any part of the world every five days, but would be used mainly to provide remote sensing data for users monitoring deforestation in the Amazon forests.

There were 18 other ‘co-passengers' including four of IN- SPACe and 14 of ISRO's commercial arm, NewSpace India (NSIL).

This is the first dedicated PSLV commercial mission for NSIL, which is undertaking it under a commercial arrangement with Seattle-based firm Spaceflight.

Though the headline-catcher was the PM’s engraved photo, the main excitement around the PSLV-C51 failed to happen when a satellite named Anand from Pixxel India, one of the several new start-ups, could not be part of the final ‘passenger’ list. Launch of the Pixxel India satellite would have taken India on the same path as companies like SpaceX or Planet Labs have been doing in the United States.

Bengaluru-based Pixxel India plans to place a vast constellation of earth-imaging satellites for continuous monitoring of every part of the globe, and beam high-resolution imagery and other data that can be utilized for a variety of applications in climate change, agriculture and urban planning.

Anand could not make it as the company withdrew its satellite due to “certain software issues” during testing. “Given the time and effort that has gone into making the satellite, it did not make sense to rush a satellite to launch in which we do not have complete confidence at the moment. We have thus decided to push our launch by a few weeks, re-evaluate the satellite software, and test it rigourously over the next few weeks as we look for the next closest launch opportunity,” the company said in a statement.

In fact, ISRO chairman K Sivan had said that the launch of PSLV-C51 would be “special” because of Pixxel India’s satellite since it marked the beginning of a new age in which private companies would become an equal partner in India’s space sector.

“Definitely, PSLV-C51 is going to be a first of its kind in the country. It is going to initiate a new era of space reforms in India and I am sure that these private people would take this activity further and provide services for the entire country,” he had said in December.

The other passengers on the PSLV included a flock of 12 SpaceBEEs from the United States, and another group of three satellites called UNITYsat jointly developed by students of three engineering colleges – Jeppiaar Institute of Technology, Sriperumbudur, GH Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur and Sri Shakhti Institute of Engineering and Technology, Coimbatore.

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