OneWeb returns with first launch from India; mega-constellation over 70% complete

oneweb launch india

It’s not often that we discuss the launch of a mega constellation other than Starlink, but over the weekend, OneWeb became the first commercial launch on India’s largest rocket. This was also the company’s return to launching since it broke ties with Russia over the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb brings constellation up to 462 with Indian launch

Over the weekend, OneWeb, with ISRO’s commercial arm NewSpace India Limited, launched 36 satellites into a polar orbit. This was OneWeb’s first launch with India, and for India, its first commercial launch of its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (get the hint of what it does?), or GSLV Mk III. However, for non-geosynchronous launches, NewSpace India calls it Launch Vehicle Mark III (LVM3).

The GSLV Mk III is a three-stage rocket, but from the outside it may appear to many to be a two-stage rocket with boosters on the side. At liftoff, only the two side-mounted solid rocket boosters ignite. About two minutes later, the core stage engines ignite. It’s a beefy rocket but packs a similar payload – actually slightly less – to SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

This launch was OneWeb’s 14th launch to build out its constellation of internet-providing satellites. It’s nearing completion and is already providing service for commercial partners. In total, OneWeb has 462 satellites in orbit. The 36 launched over the weekend are working on moving into their optimal orbits of 1,200 km.

First launch since ending cooperation with Russia

All of OneWeb’s satellites were supposed to fly on Russian-made Soyuz launch vehicles, but the company ended that deal after Roscosmos’ former director made unreasonable demands. As a result, OneWeb lost money on both launch deals and satellites left in Kazakstan, and had to move on to SpaceX and NewSpace India.

[Saturday’s] event is very historic to the country and the Indian Space Programme. This is the first ever commercial launch of LVM3 with a heaviest payload to LEO. This will pave way for more launches in the future. The interaction with OneWeb was so seamless, right from the receipt of the satellites until injection. ISRO and OneWeb teams worked like a family. I compliment all the ISRO centres and Indian industries for the commendable job and congratulate NSIL and OneWeb for the successful launch of LVM3 M2 / OneWeb India-1 mission.

Shri. Somanath S, Secretary, Department of Space and Chairman, ISRO

OneWeb has four launches left before its constellation is finished. The next three will be with SpaceX on its Falcon 9 rocket. These flights will reportedly be able to carry more than the average number of satellites, possibly 48. The final launch of OneWeb’s current generation of satellites will also take place on a NewSpace India LVM3 sometime next year.

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