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India Sends ‘Monster’ Rocket Into Orbit, While US Astronauts Remain Grounded


India successfully test launched a “monster” rocket Monday that could one day carry the country’s astronauts into orbit.

The 640-tonne and 141 feet tall Indian rocket blasted off Monday morning from a launching site off the Bay of Bengal in Sriharikota. The rocket is so large that the Indian press has taken to calling it “the monster” and was developed entirely in India.

Meanwhile, the U.S. hasn’t put an astronaut into outer space without Russian help since 2011.

“This is an important moment in India’s space technology to launch an indigenous heavy rocket,” Ajay Lele from the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said in a press statement. “Communication satellites are quite heavy and we were able to send up to two tonnes previously. This is a double quantum jump for India.”

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The rocket is designed to carry up to three astronauts but the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) says that may take another seven years.

India put a record 104 satellites in orbit from a single rocket in February, surpassing Russia, which launched 39 satellites in one mission in June 2014.

India also successfully launched an experimental unmanned and reusable space shuttle last year. India hopes to become the third country in history, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union, to operate a reusable spacecraft. Only a small group of private companies, such as Scaled Composites, Blue Origin and SpaceX, have successfully operated a reusable spacecraft. India expects to launch a full-sized reusable space shuttle in the next decade.

Reusable space technology is considered a major advance because it has the potential to significantly lower the costs of getting into orbit. Most of the cost lies not in the fuel, but in the rocket components. India’s scientists estimate that the final version could make launching satellites 10 times cheaper than today’s costs. The experimental shuttle cost India around $14 million, making it significantly cheaper than the $1.5 billion average for American shuttle launches.

NASA operated five American space shuttles between 1981 and 2011, performing 35 missions. The U.S. ended the shuttle program in 2011, planning to replace it with a new fleet of SLS rockets.

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