India Launches Monster Next-Generation Rocket

India successfully launched its biggest ever rocket on Thursday carrying an unmanned capsule which could one day send astronauts into space, as the country ramps up its ambitious space program.

India successfully launched its biggest ever rocket on Thursday carrying an unmanned capsule which could one day send astronauts into space, as the country ramps up its ambitious space program.

The rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh in a test mission costing nearly $25 million.

"This was a very significant day in the history of (the) Indian space programme," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K.S Radhakrishnan said from mission control as fellow scientists clapped and cheered.

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ISRO scientists have been riding high since an Indian spacecraft successfully reached Mars in September on a shoe-string budget, winning Asia's race to the Red Planet and sparking an outpouring of national pride.

Although India has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, it has struggled to match the heavier loads that other countries increasingly want sent up.

The new rocket, weighing 630 tonnes and capable of carrying a payload of 4 tonnes, is a boost for India's attempts to grab a greater slice of the $300-billion global space market.

"India, you have a new launch vehicle with you. We have made it again," said S. Somnath, director of the mission.

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"The powerful launch vehicle has come to shape, which will change our destiny... (by) placing heavier spacecraft into communications orbits."

The rocket was carrying an unmanned crew capsule which ISRO said successfully separated from the rocket and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal off India's east coast 20 minutes after liftoff.

The Indian-made capsule is designed to carry up to three astronauts into space.

ISRO officials said the crew capsule would be "recovered" from the sea and ferried back to Sriharikota by Friday for further studies.

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India's manned spaceflight programme has seen multiple stops and starts in recent years, and ISRO says the crew capsule project would take at least another seven years to reach the point where an astronaut could be put into space.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the test mission as "yet another triumph of (the) brilliance and hard work of our scientists" in a post on Twitter.

Radhakrishnan said the next step would be to develop a more power indigenous engine, reducing India's reliance on those built in Europe, for the rocket, which is officially named the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III.

"Our own cryogenic engine, which is at development stage, will be used in powering the advanced heavy rockets in the next two years," he said.

The ISRO's GSLV Mk-III rocket during lift off (left) and the Crew Module floating in the Andaman Sea after splash down, 20 minutes later.

On Nov. 5, India's space agency (ISRO) successfully launched its first Mars mission into Earth orbit. The Mangalyaan spacecraft was launched atop an Indian-made Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India. Now, after a series of rocket burns, the spacecraft will leave orbit and begin its 300 day journey to the red planet.

The Hubble Space Telescope got up-close and personal with our solar system's nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, with this new snapshot of the red dwarf star.

On Nov. 7, astronomers announced the discovery of a bizarre object in the asteroid belt. The spinning object, that appears to have six dusty "tails," is likely an asteroid that is ejecting dust after being spun up via pressure from sunlight.

An all veteran crew from the U.S, Russian and Japanese space agencies launched to the space station Wednesday night on a Russian Soyuz rocket with a very special payload aboard -- an Olympic torch, part of a high-profile buildup to the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.

The sun unleashed its most powerful solar flare of 2013 on Nov. 6 when active region 1890 erupted with an X3 flare. The sunspot group has now rotated toward Earth and space weather experts on alert for further activity in the region.

On Nov. 3, a 'hybrid' eclipse dazzled Africa. Shown here is a color composite of a ground-based eclipse image obtained by the Williams College Eclipse Expedition in Gabon and a wide-field EUV mosaic of the solar corona obtained simultaneously in space by SWAP onboard PROBA2.

Artist's impression of the meteor that exploded over Russia on Feb. 15. This week, new research has been published indicating that events such as the Chelyabinsk event are more common than originally believed.

A beautiful portrait of the ringed gas giant Saturn was released this week by the team that manages Cassini.

On Nov. 2, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) "Albert Einstein" burned up in the Earth's atmosphere after a successful resupply mission to the space station. Seen here, the ATV is slowly descending toward its demise after undocking on Oct 28.

The ATV-4 was loaded with waste from the orbiting outpost and on Nov. 2, space station astronauts photographed the unmanned spacecraft burn up spectacularly directly below, over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, who is currently living on the International Space Station captured a striking photo of the boundary between night and day on Earth, tweeting, "we often see the sun casting red/orange on clouds at sunset. Finally captured it."

Enjoying the view over Earth, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg also tweeted this stunning photograph on Nov. 1. "Storms over the Mediterranean. And a nadir docking port left empty after our Soyuz move earlier today," she said. (Image has been rotated.)