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India Launches Italian Satellite as Part of its First Commercial Space Mission

India has ventured on its first commercial space mission by launching an Italian satellite into space. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, this marks a milestone for the country's space program.

Scores of scientists applauded as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle blasted off to put a 352-kilogram Italian satellite into space from Sriharikota, in southern India.

The Italian satellite, named Agile, will be used to gather information about the origins of the universe.

Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, Madhavan Nair, described the launch as successful, and called it a historic moment for the Indian space community.

He said the country has made a good start in its efforts to exploit the commercial potential of its space program.

"What we have made is a hundred per cent success," he said. "We have made a good entry into the launch business as far as the space era is concerned, and I hope we will be able to have more and more opportunities in the future."

India wants to gain a foothold in the multi-billion dollar satellite launch market. So far, an exclusive club of nations offers commercial launch services: the United States, Russia, China, Ukraine and the European Space Agency.

Indian space scientists hope to offer satellite launch services at much cheaper rates compared to Western countries. India is reportedly charging $11million for the launch of the Italian satellite.

A representative of the Italian Space Agency, Giovanni Bignami, who was in Southern India to witness the launch, expressed confidence that this was the beginning of more such collaborations in the future.

"I think you have marked a very, very, important score today for the presence of Indian launches into space in general," he said.

India started its space program in 1963, and for decades it focused on providing services such as telecommunications and weather forecasting.

Later the country designed and built rockets to reduce its dependence on overseas space agencies. This prompted scientists to look at ways to exploit the program's business potential.