Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) LVM-3, in its second commercial launch on Sunday, placed 36 OneWeb satellites in orbit, completing the first-generation constellation enabling the UK-based company to initiate global coverage this year. Sunday’s was the sixth launch for India’s heaviest rocket LVM-3 – which includes the launch of Chandrayaan-2 in 2019 – and the second one where it demonstrated the capability of launching multiple satellites in low earth orbit.
The 36 satellites were placed in orbits in nine batches of four satellites each. The satellites in total weighed 5.805 kg.
After the burn of all three stages of the rocket, taking the satellites to around 450-km circular orbit, the first batch of satellites was injected into orbit just over 19 minutes after lift-off. The fourth batch was placed in orbit at around 33 minutes after lift-off.
The other five batches were injected into orbit when Indian ground stations did not have their eyes on the craft. The launch of all the satellites was later confirmed when on-board data was received by the ground-stations after a 43-minute black-out period.
The satellites were also placed at a lower 450-km circular orbit in the current mission, as against the 600-km orbit during previous missions. Consequently, the satellites were at a higher velocity at launch. This is a challenge for the mission as the separation has to be sequenced in such a way that the satellites do not crash into each other.
Sunday’s was the second launch that ISRO did for the United Kingdom-based company, which is backed by the government of UK and India’s Bharti. The company, in its first-generation constellation, plans to use 588 active satellites – placed in 12 rings of 49 satellites each with every satellite completing a full trip around the earth in 109 minutes – to provide high speed, low-latency global connectivity.
This was the eighteenth launch of OneWeb satellites, and the third this year, bringing the total number of satellites in the constellation to 618.
“OneWeb already has connectivity solutions active today in key geographies across the globe and is bringing new areas online. OneWeb’s high-speed, low-latency solutions will help connect communities, enterprises, and governments around the world, demonstrating the unparalleled potential of LEO (low earth orbit) connectivity,” the company said in its release. It added, “Across India, OneWeb will bring secured solutions not only to enterprises but also to towns, villages, municipalities and schools, including the hardest-to-reach areas across the country.”
After the launch of the 16 visible satellites from Indian ground stations, ISRO chairperson S Somanath said in his address, “I am very happy today for the consecutive successes of the LVM-3 and want to thank NSIL (ISRO’s commercial arm) for bringing this opportunity to us and also for the confidence OneWeb India has on ISRO for this launch.”
He also thanked the ISRO team for making the rocket a reliable one; none of the six missions using the rocket have failed. “Once again, the mission demonstrated the rocket’s capability of placing large, heavy satellites into the right orbit without any glitch. We look forward to engaging with commercial partners to make this rocket one of the best in this class.”
The heavy launch vehicle entered the commercial market in October last year when it launched the first batch of 36 OneWeb satellites. After opening the space sector to private players in 2020, India has been focusing on increasing its share in the global commercial space market. Despite being one of the major space-faring countries, India accounts for only 2% of the commercial market at present.