BANGALORE, India — India took an important step on the road to human spaceflight by launching its first recoverable satellite, which was one of four payloads carried aloft aboard the nation’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) Jan. 10.

The 550-kilogram Space capsule Recovery Experiment-1 is designed to orbit the Earth for at least 10 days before re-entering for a parachute-aided landing and recovery at sea, S. Krishnamurthy, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said in an interview Jan. 10.

Re-entry, thermal protection and recovery technologies, all critical for human spaceflight, will be evaluated during the mission, Krishnamurthy said. ISRO is awaiting government approval for its proposal, announced in November, to put a man in space by 2014.

The launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on India’s east coast lofted four satellites with a combined weight of 1,292 kilograms, the heaviest payload ever carried by the PSLV. It was the first use of a dual payload adapter designed to carry two primary payloads.

The other main payload was ISRO’s 680-kilogram Cartosat-2, India’s highest-resolution imaging satellite launched to date. Also deployed during the mission were small satellites for Indonesia and Argentina.

Cartosat-2 was mounted over the adapter and was the first payload deployed. It was followed by the adapter, carrying the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment-1, which then separated.

Mounted on the adapter was Argentina’s 6-kilogram Pehuensat-1 satellite. Indonesia’s 56-kilogram Lapan Tubsat satellite, mounted on the equipment bay of the rocket’s fourth stage, was the last to be deployed.

Krishnamurthy said Cartosat-2 carries a panchromatic camera capable of taking imagery with a spatial resolution of better than 1 meter and a swath of 9.6 kilometers. The satellite can swivel 45 degrees along or across its orbital track for picture taking, ISRO said in a Jan. 10 press release.

Krishnamurthy told Space News that all four payloads were injected into a 637-kilometer circular orbit — the predicted orbit was 635 kilometers — at an inclination of 97.9 degrees with respect to the equator.

“It was better than a textbook launch. I have no better words to say,” a jubilant ISRO chairman Gopalan Madhavan Nair told a televised news conference after the launch.

Coming six months after the failure of India‘s Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle, the successful PSLV mission “is a great morale booster,” Krishnamurthy said.

The launch helps lift a cloud of uncertainty over the reliability of one of the PSLV’s liquid-fueled engines. The strap-on engine blamed in the July 10 Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle mishap is similar to the PSLV’s second-stage engine. ISRO investigators determined that the problem that caused the failure was due to a manufacturing error rather than a design flaw.

Krishnamurthy said ISRO had about 2.75 billion rupees ($62 million) invested in the latest PSLV mission, including 800 million rupees for the rocket, 1.65 billion rupees for Cartosat 2 and 300 million rupees for the recovery capsule.

During its lifetime in orbit, ISRO’s Space capsule Recovery Experiment-1 will serve as a microgravity laboratory. Scientists in Bangalore, India, will attempt to make crystals and alloys in near-zero gravity aboard the capsule. The capsule is being tracked and monitored by ground stations in India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Russia, Canada, Sweden and Norway, the ISRO press release said.

Cartosat-2 will join the constellation of six Indian remote sensing satellites in service: IRS-IC, IRS-1D, Oceansat-1, Technology Experiment Satellite, Resourcesat and Cartosat-1.

Indonesia’s Lapan-Tubsat satellite is a cooperative venture between the Indonesian Space Agency Lapan and the Technical University of Berlin. The satellite carries two cameras with ground resolutions of 5 meters and 200 meters as well as a message store-and-forward experiment.

Argentina’s Pehuensat was developed by the University of Comahue of Argentina, the Amateur Satellite Association of Argentina and the Argentina Association for Space Technology. “It is intended to provide an experiment platform to perform amateur radio experiments between colleges and universities of Argentina,” ISRO said.

Based in Bangalore, Killugudi S. Jayaraman holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He was formerly science editor of the...