Isro’s LVM-3 to launch second fleet of 36 satellites Sunday, completing OneWeb constellation

The satellites have already been integrated and the rocket is in place at the launch pad ahead of Sunday’s launch.

In its second commercial launch, India’s heaviest launch vehicle LVM-3 will launch a fleet of 36 OneWeb satellites, completing the first generation of the huge broadband constellation. The launch is scheduled for March 26 at 9:00 am from the second launch pad of the country’s only spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The final launch will enable the company to initiate global coverage.

The satellites have already been integrated and the rocket is in place at the launch pad ahead of Sunday’s launch. This is the second OneWeb fleet that India is launching, with the first being carried out by the same vehicle in October last year. This initiated India’s journey into the commercial heavy lift-off space.

The United Kingdom-based company, backed by the UK government and India’s Bharti, plans to create a 588-satellite strong constellation to provide high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. These satellites will be placed in 12 rings of 49 satellites each, with every satellite completing a full trip around the Earth in 109 minutes. Sunday’s launch will be the 18th fleet to be launched by the company.

“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.”

In the previous mission, the 36 satellites were launched in a 600 km circular orbit around the Earth in a precise manner. “The separation has to be sequenced in such a way that the customer requirement of a minimum 137 metre distance between any pair of satellites is maintained. This is achieved by orienting and reorienting the cryo stage (third stage of the rocket) using the on-board thrusters,” director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre Dr S Unnikrishnan Nair had said during the previous mission.

The same challenge will be faced by the launch vehicle during Sunday’s launch. Till the OneWeb India-1 mission in October, the heavy launch vehicle had carried only a single satellite during its two development flights and its first operational flight carrying onboard Chandrayaan-2.

Senior fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses Ajay Lele said with a focus on the commercial space market, India managed to seize the opportunity presented by OneWeb. “The OneWeb satellites were initially to be launched by Russia. Although India has managed to fill the void created by Russia due to the war [in Ukraine], there is a need for ISRO to now create its own space in the sector,” he said.

Despite being one of the major space-faring nations, India accounted for only about 2 per cent of the commercial market. With the space sector opened up to private players in 2020, this is likely to increase as more and more companies are developing their own small satellite launch capabilities.

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