India’s heaviest rocket injected 36 broadband satellites of a UK-based customer into precise orbits early Sunday, completing a complex mission of several firsts, bolstering ISRO’s reputation as a tough commercial satellite market. Strengthens.
The Launch Vehicle Mark III (LVM3) took off from the second launchpad of the country’s only spaceport at Sriharikota just after midnight. About 37 minutes later, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman S Somanath said: “16 (satellites) have separated very safely as we expected, and the remaining 20 satellites will separate when we make it this way.” Will not be able to see from space (the rocket will be on the other side of the Earth), and the data will come after a while.”
Somnath announced that the vehicle would carry 36 more OneWeb satellites in its next launch.
This was the first attempt by an Indian launch vehicle other than ISRO’s important PSLV in the commercial space market. With this, India also entered the heavy launch vehicle segment of the market.
However, the mission was not just about positioning itself to capture a large portion of India’s commercial space sector (currently, India has only 2 per cent of the market despite being one of the leading space-intensive countries). This was the first time this launch vehicle carried several satellites and launched them into low Earth orbit.
This was also the first time an Indian rocket carried 5.8 tonnes into space, which was the heaviest payload ever for the space agency.
PSLV is very light and can carry between 1.4 and 1.75 tonnes of payload.
Before the operation of LVM3 – its first operational mission after two development flights, Chandrayaan 2 – several of the 2 to 5-ton GSAT satellites were launched by European launch provider Arianespace. After that, two GSAT missions were flown by Arianespace, the latest in June this year.
LVM3 – M2/OneWeb India-1 Mission: Launch scheduled at 0007 hrs. IST on October 23, 2022. Cryo stage, equipment bay (EB) assembly completed. Satellites are encapsulated and assembled in the vehicle. Final vehicle checks are in progress. @NSIL_India @OneWeb pic.twitter.com/pPbqjDjFmS
— ISRO (@isro) October 14, 2022
With all four successful missions, the launch cemented LVM3’s reputation as a reliable vehicle. This is significant as the car is currently being manned-rated and will take Indian astronauts to space as part of the Gaganyaan mission. “As part of the manned rating, more confidence-building tests of all propulsion systems are being conducted successfully,” Dr S Unnikrishnan Nair, Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, said in a video address.
Besides what the mission proved about the capabilities of the space agency, the task itself was challenging.
UK-based Network Access Associated Ltd – India’s Bharti Group is a significant investor – plans to build a 588 satellite-strong conglomerate to provide high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. These satellites will be placed in 12 rings of 49 satellites each, in which each satellite will complete the entire journey of Earth in 109 minutes.
This was the fourteenth launch for OneWeb, bringing the fleet count to 464 satellites. The constellation will be completed by next year, with ISRO’s 36-satellite launch being the last.
The current mission was also a long one, totalling over 5,500 seconds, or 91 minutes, from lift-off to the deployment of the last satellite. This was because, as demanded by the company, ISRO had to ensure the accurate injection of satellites into the 600 km orbit and ensure that the satellites did not collide with each other during or after deployment.
Dr Nair said: “The mission demands the separation of all 36 satellites into an orbit of 600. The break should be sequenced so that the customer requirement of 137 metres maintains the minimum distance between any pair of satellites. This is achieved by orienting and re-orientating the cryo stage (the rocket’s third stage) using the onboard thrusters.
Dr D Sam Dayala Dev, Director of ISRO Inertial Systems Unit, said: “There is a need for precise injection so that they do not collide during separation. Not only do they collide, but they also maintain separation for a long period. It takes some of the manoeuvres of the launch vehicle. It says to add the incremental velocity between pointing and satellite separation. It needs to be done exactly.”