Did ISRO just put a Chinese satellite into orbit?

AJ Vinayak Mangaluru | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 23, 2017


After the mega launch of 104 satellites in February, ISRO’s relatively modest launch of 31 satellites on Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C38 on Friday should have attracted little attention. After all, barring the 712-kg Cartosat-2 series satellite, the other passengers were small satellites from different countries, mostly built by universities across the globe (including India) for research purposes.

But the origin of one of the tiny passengers has been causing a buzz among space and satellite launch circles around the globe. Reason: ISRO may well have put a Chinese satellite into space.

Eight of the small satellites deployed on Friday were Cube Sats — miniaturised research satellites — of the QB50 project, sponsored by the European Commission and managed by the Von Karmann Institute from Belgium. Orbiting in a string-of-pearls configuration, the QB50 constellation is a network of 50 Cubesats built by university teams world-over to carry out long-duration exploration of the lower thermosphere.

NASA’s website, which lists all payloads launched into space, says one of the QB50 satellites belonged to China’s National University of Defence Technology. “The two satellites which carry INMS (Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer) payloads are NUDTSat for China’s National University of Defence Technology and UCLSat for University College London”, it said.

With the two Asian giants being bitter rivals on earth as well as in space (China is way ahead in manned spaceflight; India beat China to Mars), there was consternation in some circles about ISRO carrying a Chinese payload.

According to an entry on social news aggregator Reddit: “There is a bit of confusion as ‘BE06’ isn’t on any list and is probably a typo…”. It noted that BE is a country code for Belgium but that NUDTSAT is from China. The NASA site named the satellite name as CN06.

ISRO denied there was any Chinese satellite aboard PSLV C38. ISRO’s official launch brochure said the satellite in question was Belgian — but that may well be because of the Belgian oversight of the QB50 project.

GBtimes, a website that says it “introduces Chinese businesses to the world”, said that not only was NUDTSat Chinese but that the earlier, record-setting launch of 104 satellites had also included a Chinese passenger — Chen Jiayong 1, another cubesat.

Clearly, it’s Hindi-Cheeni bhai-bhai once more — at least in space.

With inputs from M Somasekhar in Hyderabad

Published on June 23, 2017
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