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India launches 20 satellites in single mission (bbc.com)
283 points by chetangole on June 22, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments

Some more detail about the payloads:


This launch includes 12 Earth imaging satellites from Planet (https://www.planet.com/pulse/flock-2p-launches-successfully-...) and a second generation satellite from Google's Terra Bella.

> The chairman of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Kiran Kumar, told the NDTV news channel that launching 20 satellites in a single mission was like "allowing birds to fly in space".

'What, what does that mean?'

> "Each of these small objects that you are putting into space will carry out their own activity, which is independent of the other, and each of them will live a wonderful life for the finite period for which they have been designed," he said, ahead of the launch.

'Oh! That was... surprisingly poetic.'

There will be naysayers when a second or third world country achieves a milestone. Inspite of similar feats done before by developed nations, this is huge for developing economies. Similar thing happened when the earlier Prime Minister of India announced that India will launch a Mars mission within a year at a fraction of cost at what NASA or ESA would do it. Most people laughed at it, and said it's impossible and what not. But guess what, India did send a successful Mars mission that's orbiting the red planet right now. Since then I take 'Expert' HN comments with a pinch of salt. Sometimes HN acknowledges a feat only when done by Elon Musk, NASA or ESA.

> Most people laughed at it, and said it's impossible and what not. But guess what, India did send a successful Mars mission that's orbiting the red planet right now. Since then I take 'Expert' HN comments with a pinch of salt.

I've been on HN for many years and my recollection is that the community here has been very supportive and encouraging of India's efforts in space technology.

> I've been on HN for many years and my recollection is that the community here has been very supportive and encouraging of India's efforts in space technology.

Unless your memory is selective - you may recall that the support was far from unanimous. I recall a number of HNers stating that the ISRO budget would be better spent on other 'more pressing' challenges India is facing (poverty, sanitation). In fairness, there was a lot of push-back against the naysayers, stating why the space program is money well spent (the most prominent benefits I recall were improved weather predictions benefit farming and cheaper/better telecoms)

--edit: added stuff below this line--

The naysayers have made an appearance in this very thread. They are currently being downvoted (I expect nothing less from HN).

That's not being a naysayer. I think the same is true of the US space program.

If we really want to colonize space we need self sustaining habitats and highly compact and automated manufacturing from raw materials. Both can be done while staying on earth, and sending people up or yet another probe is mostly pointless.

> and sending people up or yet another probe is mostly pointless

Good thing they are lifting telecom & weather sats too! It's reasonable to say those are not pointless.

It's unreasonable to put space programs on hold while we try to solve the human condition. There is no political will or even widespread support. People are horrible - they worry about themselves, their families, their neighbourhoods, towns and countries in that order. "Self-sustaining habitats, pffft, not with my hard-earned tax dollars. Build my kid's school a bigger stadium than last years'"

There are always some naysayers. There were some for the US program too:


Although there were some discouraging voices, I have to say HN in general has been very supportive of India's efforts in space exploration and technology/R&D in general.

Especially considering the general negative narrative of misplaced priorities of a thirdworld country from the likes of bbc/guardian/nytimes, HN is a breath of fresh air - probably because HN community is more optimistic about the positive impact of tech, and bbc/guardian/nytimes are not, and sees feeding the hungry and investing in R&D as mutually exclusive.

This was my recollection as well. People who were making the "starving children in Africa" argument were being downvotes and rebutted.

I remember a large number of users who were enthusiastically supportive.

Mostly what I remember is how quickly the conversation dove into people wondering why the American program was expensive, then discussions on Musk.

The mission was just straight up cool and everyone was kicked to see it succeed.

(I think many people here are still kicked that we as a species could get a satellite that far, and at that cost)

It's a form of Karma whoring.

Make a statement about how it's disappointing about the lack of support for X, even though the opposite is true.

Plebs then rush to upvote this statement because they (like the majority) do support X.

Disappointing, but it often works.

>Most people laughed at it... Since then I take 'Expert' HN comments with a pinch of salt.

I had a look at the top voted story on the Mars mission "Why India's Mars mission is so cheap - and thrilling", 392 points https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8361558

and I'm not sure anyone was laughing at it. About the closest anyone got was saying the payload was not very heavy.

This is not the thread, but even in this thread:


I'm not gonna speak for HN, but I read this site and personally I'm totally behind India's ambitions in space. I'm happy to cheer their successes and I hope it's meaningful to Indians too.

The one thing I sometimes complain about is the nationalism. India's no worse than the others on tis front. I'd like (personally) for space exploration to be a human endeavor rather than a national one.

Agree! But, the nationalism display happens because of 2 reasons. 1) People making fun of how all Indian villages doesn't have electricity and it is spending money which is a waste. When someone makes this point on social media, people go on defensive on how great ISRO and India is. 2) The government and media aggressively pushes this as national achievement to ignite interests in sciences among kids and youth.

At the end of the day, ISRO will be an Indian space agency and so the nationalism display, sometimes though excessive.

We often forget that despite all the claims of NASA being a world space agency, the flag on the moon is an American one, not a UN one or a representation of some other world agency.

I completely agree that nationalism is horrible for something as important as space colonization. But make no mistake, unless we manage to form an international government before space colonization commences, there will be a scramble for space colonies, much like there was a scramble for colonies on earth.

Sorry to be off-topic, but this is not the first time I see using the phrases 'second world' and 'third world' incorrectly here. A third world country was a neutral or unaligned country in the cold war. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-World_Model

The term has long lost its initial definition.

Due to the complex history of evolving meanings and contexts, there is no clear or agreed-upon definition of the Third World.[1] Some countries in the Communist Bloc, such as Cuba, were often regarded as "Third World". Because many Third World countries were extremely poor, and non-industrialized, it became a stereotype to refer to poor countries as "third world countries", yet the "Third World" term is also often taken to include newly industrialized countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (see also: BRIC).


But probably 95% of usage uses the term to mean developing or under developed country which is probably a better definition now (as in that meaning indicates what the author meant).

Actually I think this may be a rare correct usage of the term.

India is third-world in both senses of the term: neutral during the Cold War and economically still developing.

I think there are some important points that is not mentioned when discussing Indias doing it with much less money than what NASA did.

Questions comes to my mind are;

- How well(deserved) the engineers were paid during the development?

- How much of the budget were invested in research?

- What are the positive outcomes of the mission?

I think they have some direct effects on the budget as well.

And you are here to preempt naysayers legitimate concerns?

It has nothing to do with third world achievements. It is more about Nehruvian style elites claiming glory in scientific achievements while day-to-day problems that vast underclass is facing goes unanswered because it is tough.

So Indian achievements are in categories where they punish or reward a small group because that is easier than tackling major issues e.g. banning smoking in public places because it is easy but not banning polluting vehicles as it has political repercussions.

There is no such thing as do everything right or don't do anything at all. A nation cannot be an all-or-nothing game.

Yes India has problems, but doesn't mean that it has to stop progress in all other places until all these problems (poverty, polluting vehicles, etc) are solved. Because guess what, if one problem is solved, the next one comes up.

Progress has to happen on all fronts. Banning cigarettes is good and doesn't have to wait until vehicle pollution is banned. Each will take its own time.

Just because India's Mars mission and satellite launches are taking top spot in the news, doesn't mean that India has now started rewarding only the elite. Its a tiny tiny fraction of India's GDP. We lag behind in so many areas, but we are also progressing in Healthcare, IP laws, Right to food, etc. I don't think anyone even knows that India as a "Right to Information" act. Citizens can direct queries to government offices (offline or online) and beaurocrats get penalized if they respond late. So yes, progress doesn't need to stop.

Sorry but this gets my Goat.

ISRO saves lives. Their satellites, gave us early warning during the Cyclones 2-3 years ago, allowing for rapid evacuation and relief.

They put food on our plates and help poor farmers plan crops because those satellites are the ones giving us excellent, world class meteorological data.

It's done on a budget so tiny, that the ROI for this division is possibly better than any other government department in India. AND - ISRO launches make money for the organization.

It's an example of excellence in challenging conditions, and everything that Nehruvian style engineering stood for.

They do India proud, and naysayers can be safely ignored.

Well when your top engineers get paid 25k sure you can do it for a fraction of the cost. Why couldn't you. Indian military already has tons of tech that if they bring to the civil sector they could use to compete with whatever. The problem is usually corruption and funding. The intelligence is there, in a billion people there are a few million outliers.

Heck most of American Fortune 500's are leveraging Indian brains to increase profits. Google is run by an Indian and so is Microsoft. There are Vikram Musks that are already captains of industry in America. Born and raised in India.

India is a country of disparity. Both intellectual and economic. That problem is not going to be solved any time soon. But if Indians want to create companies to compete on the global stage there is not much stopping them other than their own government and financial systems.

Top engineers don't get paid this low but I get your point. Do you have any evidence to support that the major cost component for space missions is the salaries being paid?

Apart from land rights, all the costs of everything are salaries being paid. I'm not be facetious. It's salaries all the way down until you hit land rights.

What about equipment/infrastructure/R&D/materials? If space tech is all about salaries I doubt what else isn't. If that were true wouldn't all commercial R&D move to India? It makes economical sense.

Bah! "The intelligence is there, in a billion people there are a few million outliers"

That statement is suggestive of an Indian race that's generally not intelligent. Just curious on your country of origin and race, and source of this bias!

Not sure for all the downvotes, it's a legitimate point.

> The intelligence is there, in a billion people there are a few million outliers.


Not to denigrate the Indian space program on their historic achievement, but since it has been done before (even if more expensively), it's of less interest to those that are looking forward to major advances in the field.

These types of achievements are great though, in the sense that they foster competition and help everyone improve.

Electric cars have been done before, but that doesn't stop people from praising Tesla as jesus on earth

Tesla legitimately broke new ground, before they came out with their roadster there was very little interest in electric cars. And the S really showed the world that an EV can be actually desirable in and of itself.

But yes, I would agree that they are overrated here on HN. They are by no means the first to try mass-market EV (see: Leaf, ZOE, i3) but somehow seem to get all the credit.

India is also doing the same. Space experiments like these were pre-dominantly done from places like USA, Europe, Russia and China. India is not only doing this by themselves. They are also helping their neighbours for mutual benefits. For example, they're building their own space-based navigation system to aid in their defence and other uses.

This helps India and also helps neighbouring countries instead of relying on archiac GPS system which US doesn't share with defense systems to countries other than Pakistan

Out of 20, only 2 are Indian, 13 satellites are from US and others, including one made by a Google-owned company.

The satellites themselves aren't that interesting; the cool part is supposed to be 20 at a time

Out of curiosity: how do you launch 20 satellites like this without danger of collisions? I guess you accelerate between deploying each satellite to slightly change the orbit?

As an Indian and personal supporter of the Indian space program, I don't see this as a feat in the international sense.

What was the technological leap? ISRO could have done this few years back as well. Its just that the payload combination clicked this time.

By bragging about things like these we merely betray our jingoism. And what's more when a real technological feat happens it would be drowned out because we gloated over things like this.

Also I hope many of the posters here are seriously thinking about giving to ISRO or working for them. ISRO could seriously use more tech talent.

> As an Indian and personal supporter of the Indian space program, I don't see this as a feat in the international sense.

It makes sense since the only other two agencies which were able to send many satellites were NASA and the Russian space agency. So this news shows ISRO is also a serious contender.

>By bragging about things like these we merely betray our jingoism.

Posting a BBC article here is not bragging. Though i wouldn't suggest people to go out and say we are the best, since we aren't, I don't see any harm in posting this kind of news on HN.

You seem to think things should be ground breaking to be appreciated, it need not be to appreciate the efforts of the scientists.

Publicity could lead to satellite-based companies considering Indian launches as an option over (more) expensive US/Russian/ESA led ones.

Anyone has cost/kg to LEO for this launch system?

the PSLV's payload to LEO is 3.25 tons. Wikipedia gives the cost of a launch at 15 million USD so that gives about $4600/kg to LEO. For context, that's nearly twice as expensive per kg as a Falcon 9 launch but they're difficult to compare because they serve different launch markets.

I wouldn't say that India is a "major player" in the satellite launch market yet, considering the reliability record of its rockets:


They're uninsurable for commercial telecom satellite launches. The PSLV is slightly better but also has a much smaller market.

People playing Kerbal Space Program [1] have been doing multiple satellite launches for a while.

But the more serious point is that we now have an entire generation of kids growing up learning about rocket science. It's exciting to see what they will do with this knowledge when they grow up.

See: * https://youtu.be/4WP4yICiZno

* https://youtu.be/fEtgo4M7Z8g

* http://imgur.com/a/WjGNH

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/KerbalSpaceProgram/

How can I get a job at ISRO.

Could be worth noting that the pay of an entry level scientist or engineer is less than 1,000$ a month, probably making less sense to someone from outside India. It's because of a low cost of living in India.

Apply at the ISRO website.[0] They have vacancies for all kinds of positions.

[0] http://www.isro.gov.in/careers

Do you have to be born in India?

Yes unless you can provide something Indian citizens cannot provide like expertise in some of the systems ISRO doesn't have proficiency in. I don't say these in demeaning way. India is a 1.26 billion people country and pays less when you compare to salaries of NASA in USD. There's also the aspect of ISRO also being important research organization for defence. It's more like US DRDO and NASA both in a single entity. As a national security risk it's mostly Indian citizens with SMEs on contractual basis

Not true. ISRO is not NASA and "US DRDO" (this should be a clue. DRDO is separate) rolled into one. ISRO has been a civilian program to avoid MTCR issues (although it did not help with GSLV) with DRDO running IGMDP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrated_Guided_Missile_Deve...)

FAIL! As an Overseas Citizen of India, this is extremely disappointing!

That is an aged political view of the world. Nowadays, a third world country is where you can die of disease, infection, etc. by drinking water due to lack of sanitation. Where infrastructure is missing almost completely, and where the majority of people live below international poverty lines (no, US families with 3 bedroom houses and loans to pay are not below the international poverty line. People sleeping in their newpaper-stand that they also work from are below such line.)

Clean and safe menstrual pads, clean water, infrastructure, education, controlled agriculture. These are pillars of progress. Space programs are impressive, but are of very little consequence when half the population is so poor, they crap on the streets in plain sight at daylight. Meanwhile women are ashamed to hang their sanitary pads in the sun to properly disinfect them due to 3rd world superstitions about cleanness and evil spirits. There are grown men in India who don't even know that women have periods. Others bury their dead in the Ganges while downstream the same water is used for cooking and drinking.




We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11952270 and marked it off-topic.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is antibacterial soap poisoning the water http://www.seeker.com/are-anti-bacterial-soaps-poisoning-our...

and created many more issues http://www.bbc.com/news/health-32543176

Women do not want to public display sanitary pads as here, there is nothing about "superstitions about cleanness and evil spirits". If you want to see superstitions look at all apartments in developed US/Canada where floor no. 13 is missing, and number 666 is found offensive by government https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/05/05/etobicoke-mans-v...

And deads are not buried but cremated on river beds. Burying practice also cause pollution FYI http://www.utne.com/environment/arsenic-contamination-ze0z13... http://www.disabled-world.com/health/cemetery.php

BTW, you are right about open defecation in urban area. That needs to be changed.

Your use of the colonial word "Ganges" to refer to the river Ganga betrays your coloured view of that part of the world.

Even ignoring all the factually false statements, that was an unnecessarily condescending rant.

Here we go again.

The statements are not false, burying your head in the sand is not going to make uncomfortable things untrue. Minus the menstrual-pad thing, I've seen the rest with my own eyes in India.

"the majority of people live below international poverty lines"

The international poverty line is ~$700/year. India's average income, adjusted for purchasing parity, is $6100/year. If you're going to make inflammatory, derogatory statements, at least get your facts right.

> > "the majority of people live below international poverty lines"

> The international poverty line is ~$700/year. India's average income, adjusted for purchasing parity, is $6100/year.

The mean income (which is the average for which that statement is true) tells you nothing about whether the majority is above or below a certain point, unless you know independently that the distribution is normal, so that the mean is also the median (but that's unlikely for an income distribution in a country.)

Yes, I'm aware of the mean vs median distinction. But if someone states that the majority of the country has an income below X, and I find out that the average wage in the country is actually 8X, I'm going to be extremely skeptical of the original statement. The amount of income inequality that is needed to produce a situation like that, is so extreme that no one should believe it without supporting data.

As it turns out, I was right. The other person to reply to me, dug up evidence showing that only 22% earn below the intl poverty line. Not "the majority" as was stated.

Are you really caught up on "majority"? Semantics are the line you've chosen to draw?


In India, as of 2011:

- 293 million (or 22% of the population) live on less than $1.90 a day (international poverty line).

- 708 million (or 55% of the population) live on less than $3.10 a day.


"Internationally, an income of less than $1.90 per day per head of purchasing power parity is defined as extreme poverty. By this estimate, about 32.7% percent of Indians are extremely poor. Income-based poverty lines consider the bare minimum income to provide basic food requirements; it does not account for other essentials such as health care and education.[2] The number of people living on less than $1.9 per day in 2011 was 259.5 million (21.3% of the total population)."

32.7% are considered "extremely poor" and the poverty line counts only for basic food - not healthcare, education, etc.

India's poverty levels are extreme, severe, and talking about it is neither false, inflammatory, derogatory, or an attack.

Edit: what's with the glut of down-votes all of a sudden? Usually links and evidence - especially in recognizing social injustice - are welcomed on HN.

Someone stated that "the majority of people live below international poverty lines"

I replied stating that his comment contains factually false statements.

You replied calling me out, saying that there were no false statements.

You later provided proof that only 22% of the population lives below the international poverty line.

22% is no where even close to 50%. I don't know why you keep trying to defend this as a true statement. It isn't, as you yourself supplied proof for.


Regarding your point that I'm getting lost in semantics: I should be the one saying that to you. The entire debate about the international poverty line was not even my main point. My main point as stated originally was that the post was an unnecessarily condescending rant.

And it is. If we were discussing the overall state of India, then the above comment might be a fair one. But that's not even close to what this thread is about. This thread is about India's space agency launching 20 satellites in a single mission. Someone then went off on a (unnecessary) tangent about the original definition of "3rd world", as relating to the cold war. Someone else then went off on another completely unrelated rant about every single problem he could think of, that exists in the country.

Bringing up valid criticisms during the appropriate context/discussion, is certainly very valuable. But criticizing someone/something during completely unrelated discussions isn't. It's usually just a sign of someone who enjoys condescending to others and enjoys the feeling of power that comes with it.


When it's a country you are talking about, you have to plan for centuries and not the next decade. Being myopic will only hurt. It's not like building toilets and launching satellites are an either/or.

Besides launching satellites is a very profitable business for India. So why not?

That was exactly my point. Totally lost on HN. Every time we have, "India did x in tech", we get, "but they don't have toilets".

i don't know. our own governments tend to think about the next 3-6 years; not even a decade. centuries? hah that's well beyond what is politically profitable

How come the US hasn't eliminated homelessness before launching satellites?

You don't have to fix every other problem in the world before doing something advanced.

Please don't do this here.

His wording is off but he does raise a good point of discussion.

It isn't a good point of discussion; it's a "classic flamewar topic" (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html) that leads to the same predictable, angry discussion every time it's invariably raised in stories about India, especially India's space program.

We need the intellectual maturity as a community to resist such temptation and differentiate one topic (e.g., a good thing people are doing) from another (e.g. the worst known fact about those people). This is more important the more complex a system gets, and it's hard to imagine more complex systems than a country or more complex countries than India.

Thanks. This is what I was trying to convey. Next time I will be more direct.

I really don't think it is a good point of discussion in this context. The scientists who are working on these rocket launch missions are not in charge of administration of the towns and villages where the toilets need to be built.

Of course they are not. But the merits of India's space program are a debate worth having in my opinion. All the other space programs (except for NK) were started when their nations were doing okay socially at least. Sure, the profits may be redirected to fixing those social issues but lives are being lost the longer they delay that.

Indians spend several times more money on Bollywood and Cricket than the space programs. Space programs are not what needs to be targeted for budgets.

I'm not sure you can compare cricket with government spending, unless the government massively donates to sport and movies?

The Indian Goverment has a budget of Rs. 1541 Crores (£155,000,000~) for the Sports Department


And the space program has a budget of Rs. 7,927 crore (£799,871,700) according to wikipedia.

So to address your point, yeah India spends quite a bit on Sports, but no way near as much as their Space Program.

And the Government would spend Rs 221,246 crore on roads and railways alone.


And what do you want to discus? It will start just another flame-war. Indian program is pretty cost effective, and there is a good chance it will become profitable.

And US has 44M people on food stamps ;-(

>And US has 44M people on food stamps ;-(

That's how social programs work. It wouldn't be working if they weren't giving them out to the lower distribution of the US income.

I'm not sure what point you were trying to make, that food stamps imply the country is poor? Would highlighting that the UK has 100% of its people on NHS also imply that their citizens are poor?

European countries used food stamps during WW2. It implies that country does not have enough food, if it has to ration its food supplies. I know it is social assistance, but it has really bad name.

NHS is paid health insurance, sometimes pretty expensive, not much relevant.

US 'food stamps' (for which the actual name is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are actually just a government-issued debit card that can only be spent on food at most private retailers. There's absolutely no connotation of rationing in the US nor is there any stamp involved.

You are confusing rationing with (essentially) gifting.

Ration stamps merely represented a limited ability to buy a resource in short supply. For example, if you had ration stamps for gasoline/petrol, you could buy up to whatever quantity you had stamps for -- you handed over the stamps and cash.

The term "stamp" in this context is used to refer to a system of payment using a proof-of-purchase (the stamp). Another example, a postage stamp is evidence that you have paid for the delivery of your letter. Some countries use stamps to pay for government services like deeds or passports.

You are confusing this with a ration system using stamps, which allows the purchase of a good, but does not actually pay for the goods.

You should probably look up what food stamps are in the US. They have nothing to do with a food shortage.

the point being relevant to the news about the satellites how? people bringing up problems with developing countries infrastructure/politics in threads about their achievements has nothing to do with the achievements and everything to do with that pervasive feeling of us vs them

Yeah, a totally irrelevant comment.

Maybe the money received for sending US and German satellites can be used to construct toilets.

And those satellites can be used to find places for the homeless in the US :)

This is a valid point, and does not deserve a down vote.

you can have a public restroom in the U.S as long as you are a male or a female and if you are not... well you are screwed.

Has any country achieved this feat? [update] Has any country achieved this feat at this cost?

Read the article:

> The record for the most number of satellites launched in a single mission belongs to Russia, which sent up 37 satellites in 2014.

Also, it's not exactly a feat. If someone really wanted, they could stuff a rocket full of nanosats but I imagine there's more risk in launching that much at once. (They could be released in sequence but still, more chances for something to go wrong.)

Yep, it's that easy.

It's not what I said. I meant that there probably are reasons apart from difficulty that people don't launch so many satellites at once.

From the article:

The record for the most number of satellites launched in a single mission belongs to Russia, which sent up 37 satellites in 2014.

IIRC the US and Russia have launched something like 30 satellites.

But, nevertheless, impressive.

You mean cost/kg to LEO? My short search showed costs far higher than SpaceX.

NDTV, an indian news channel, just reported that the launch cost was 50% less than spacex. No specifics were provided though.

From another comment here:

"the PSLV's payload to LEO is 3.25 tons. Wikipedia gives the cost of a launch at 15 million USD so that gives about $4600/kg to LEO. For context, that's nearly twice as expensive per kg as a Falcon 9 launch but they're difficult to compare because they serve different launch markets."

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