OneWeb signs contract to launch satellites from India in 2022

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TAMPA, Fla. — OneWeb has signed a contract to use India’s largest launch vehicle to deploy at least some of its remaining LEO broadband satellites this year, according to a company executive.

The U.K.-based megaconstellation startup said in a brief April 20 news release it has reached an agreement with New Space India Limited, Indian space agency ISRO’s commercial arm, that covers launches from Satish Dhawan Space Centre for an undisclosed number of satellites.

“The first launch with New Space India is anticipated in 2022 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota. The launches will add to OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation of 428 satellites, 66 per cent of the planned total fleet,” OneWeb said in a statement

Chris McLaughlin, chief of government, regulatory affairs and engagement at OneWeb, told SpaceNews the company plans to use India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

He declined to disclose further details.

The GSLV Mark 3 is India’s largest rocket and can lift about 9,000-kilograms to LEO, comparable with the Russian Soyuz vehicles that European launch provider Arianespace had been using to deploy OneWeb’s constellation — before they were caught up in sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

India last launched a GSLV Mark 3 in 2019 as part of the country’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar exploration mission.

The rocket has roughly double the payload performance of GSLV Mark 2, which hasn’t flown since an August 2021 mission that ended in failure

GSLV Mark 2’s most recent successful launch was in December 2018, when the rocket deployed ISRO’s GSAT-7A communications satellite.

Resuming launches

Using the Soyuz 2.1b vehicle, Arianespace had been able to deploy 34-36 OneWeb satellites per launch.

OneWeb had planned to use six more Soyuz rockets this year to expand its services globally, but was forced to pause deployment March 4 to find alternative rockets.

With just 66% of its planned 648-satellite constellation in orbit, OneWeb has only activated connectivity services in the upper parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

OneWeb said March 21 it reached a deal with U.S.-based SpaceX that enables the operator to resume launches this year. However, details including the timing and number of satellites involved have still not been announced.

It is unclear whether OneWeb could launch from India before SpaceX in the United States.

Last October, well before the collapse of OneWeb’s plans to finish deploying its constellation by mid-2022 using Soyuz, OneWeb announced a non-binding letter of intent with NewSpace India Limited to launch its satellites on GSLV Mark 3, and the medium-lift Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), as soon as 2022.

At the time, the agreement was seen as paving the foundations for potentially launching at least a part of OneWeb’s second-generation constellation in the future.

India is also developing a small-lift rocket called Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) that, according to an India Today report, is slated to perform its maiden launch between July and September following delays.

Although OneWeb is based in London and counts the British government as a shareholder, Indian conglomerate Bharti Global holds the biggest stake in the company.

OneWeb said Jan. 20 it had signed a six-year deal to distribute broadband in India through Hughes Communications India Private Ltd (HCIPL), a joint venture between Bharti Global-owned telco Bharti Airtel and U.S.-based Hughes Network Systems.

Hughes is a minority shareholder in OneWeb and is building gateways for the operator in India and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space), which built the dispensers OneWeb used to deploy spacecraft from Soyuz rockets, said March 21 it is building a new facility to double its satellite dispenser production capabilities.

The Swedish company is also building dispensers for Amazon’s Project Kuiper megaconstellation that announced an agreement April 5 to buy up to 83 launches from Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance.