OneWeb successfully launched 36 more satellites aboard India’s most powerful rocket, the GSLV Mk.3, bringing the total number of OneWeb spacecraft in orbit to 618. This is enough for the London-based company to start global broadband service later this year. The mission was the 18th flight dedicated to deploying OneWeb satellites, and the penultimate launch for OneWeb’s first-generation satellite network, with another batch of spare spacecraft scheduled for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in May.
The decade long journey
The milestone mission capped a decade-long effort to develop, build, and launch the OneWeb network, overcoming bankruptcy and the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. “This is the most significant milestone in the history of OneWeb, as we reach the satellites needed for global coverage,” said Neil Masterson, OneWeb’s CEO.
The Indian LVM3 rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at 11:30:20 p.m. EDT on Saturday, after a smooth countdown. The rocket initially headed southeast over the Bay of Bengal, then turned south in a maneuver designed to avoid an overflight of Sri Lanka. The OneWeb satellites began separating from their dispenser on the GSLV’s upper stage at T+plus 19 minutes, 42 seconds. The spacecraft deployed in groups of four over the following hour.
Deployment and services
Ground controllers established contact with all 36 satellites after deployment from the Indian launch vehicle. U.S. military tracking data confirmed the rocket placed the satellites into an on-target near-circular orbit with an altitude of about 380 miles (450 kilometers) and an inclination of 87.4 degrees to the equator. Once in their final orbit, the satellites will be ready to enter commercial service later this year. OneWeb’s satellites are designed to beam low-latency broadband internet signals to customers around the world.
Roadblocks and solutions
OneWeb originally booked launches on Russian Soyuz rockets through Arianespace, which had commercial rights to market Soyuz launches on the global market. Russia’s space agency refused to launch more missions for OneWeb after Western governments levied sanctions on Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Officials from OneWeb do not expect to regain custody of 36 OneWeb satellites that were stranded at the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan when launches were suspended. The company quickly booked launches with SpaceX and NSIL for the remaining launches required to complete the first-generation network. OneWeb also built replacements for the satellites confiscated by Russia.
This launch is a very important milestone for ISRO as we demonstrated the successful launch of a second consecutive commercial payload of OneWeb,” said S. Somanath, chairman of ISRO, India’s space agency. “This valued customer trusted our capability, and we have proved it in a very short span of time.” OneWeb is one of several operators either already launching large fleets of internet satellites or planning to begin launches soon.