India’s first satellite dedicated to astronomy, ASTROSAT, blasted off into space on September 28 from the space port of Sriharikota in the Bay of Bengal, equipped with five instruments to study astrophysical phenomena over a wide range of wavelengths simultaneously.

An Indian-built Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrying the 1.5-tonne probe lifted off at 10:00 am India time and successfully placed it in a 650-kilometre orbit above Earth 22 minutes later, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) confirmed.

ASTROSAT, with a mission life of five years, is armed with telescopes that will simultaneously study the space in visible light, ultraviolet (UV) rays and low- and high-energy X-rays, plus an X-ray scanning sky monitor to detect transient X-ray emissions and γ-ray bursts. The observatory aims to study star-birth regions and high-energy processes, including binary star systems of neutron stars and black holes (see 'Indian ASTROSAT telescope set for global stardom').

ISRO Satellite Center (ISAC) director Mylswamy Annadurai says that the sky scanner will start gathering data in a few days, followed by the four telescopes, the last of which, the UV telescope, will be turned on in two months' time.

The Indian Space Science Data Centre in Bangalore will be the initial repository of all raw data, which it will then distribute to four operation centres around the country.

Expectations are high among astronomers in India and abroad. “ASTROSAT opens a new chapter in Indian space astronomy,” says Swarna Kanti Ghosh, director of The National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), who is part of the mission’s science working group. “We can write our research proposals for UV and X-ray astronomy directly to ASTROSAT” without having to depend on observatories abroad, he says.

Also hitching a ride on the PSLV were six small satellites for maritime surveillance—one from Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, one from Canada’s University of Toronto Institute for Advanced Studies and four from US aerospace start-up Spire Global.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on September 28, 2015.