The Indian Space Research Organization on Sept. 9 successfully lofted its historic Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, putting  two foreign satellites into orbit.

The fully-indigenous PSLV-C21 vehicle, which weighs 230-tons and stands 44 meters (144 ft.) tall, blasted off from the Satish Dhawan space center at Sriharikota in south India at 9.53 a.m. on Sunday morning, an ISRO official said.

The launch, initially scheduled for 9:51 a.m., was delayed for 2 min. as scientists waited for space debris to clear out, the official said.

Nearly 18 min. after blastoff, the launch vehicle injected the first satellite, France’s 800-kg (1,800-lb.) SPOT-6 remote-sensing satellite, built by Astrium Services, into an orbit of 655 km (407 mi.). That was followed by a 15-kg Japanese microsatellite called Proiteres (Project of OIT Electric Rocket Engine onboard small Spaceship). Proiteres is a technology demonstrator for Earth observation carrying a high-resolution camera developed by a team of students and faculty at the Osaka Institute of Technology (OIT).

The successful launch of SPOT-6 makes the PSLV rocket a strong contender to carry SPOT-7, which is being planned by Astrium in the near future, says ISRO chief K. Radhakrishnan.

“India’s space expeditions are for the betterment of society, not to compete with other countries,” he says.

SPOT 6 and SPOT 7 would form a constellation of Earth-imaging satellites designed to provide continuity of high-resolution, wide-swath data up to 2023.

SPOT 6 is a high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite. Like its twin SPOT 7, which is slated for launch in early 2014, SPOT 6 will cover a 60-km wide swath and produce imagery products with a resolution down to 1.5 meters. SPOT 6 and SPOT 7 would ensure service continuity from the SPOT 4 and SPOT 5 satellites, which have been operating since 1998 and 2002 respectively.

Spot 6 and Spot 7 cost about 300 million euros ($375 million), Astrium said.

Both satellites have drawn on technological and operational innovations conceived for the Pléiades constellation. Pleiades, like Spot 6 and Spot 7, operates in a 700-km orbit, and is capable of detecting images as small as 50 centimeters in diameter in its highest-resolution mode.

The mission will bring ISRO’s total tally of foreign satellites launched to 29.

PSLV-C21 photo: ISRO