India Just Launched Its Giant 'Monster' Rocket

Yesterday was a big day for India and its very, very large rocket: Last night the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched its 640 tonne GSLV-Mk III rocket, carrying the GSAT-19 communications satellite on it. The GSLV-Mk III's maiden voyage brought its satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit above Earth's equator -- a high Earth orbit that allows a satellite to sync up with Earth's rotation. Not to shabby for a first launch.

Image: ISRO

GSLV-Mk III, which The Indian Express recently called a "monster" rocket, certainly lives up to its nickname. The 43m rocket is allegedly as heavy as 200 full-grown Asian elephants, which is an adorable and very useful way to measure things. It still isn't quite as many elephants as NASA's Saturn V rocket, though -- the 3100-tonne rocket was equivalent to roughly 400 elephants back in its day, according to NASA's estimates. (Either one of these two estimates is off, or Indian and American space agencies are using very different elephants to gauge the size of their rockets.)

GSLV-MKIII's successful launch bodes well for Indian aerospace, which has traditionally relied on foreign countries to send its heftier payloads into orbit. A rocket that can carry several hundred elephants' worth of weight means it will be able to ferry up heavy communications satellites at a lower cost.

Naturally, everyone's happy.

"The GSLV -- MKIII D1/GSAT-19 mission takes India closer to the next generation launch vehicle and satellite capability," Indian prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted after the launch. "The nation is proud!"