TAMPA, Florida — 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 UK-based megaconstellation startup said in a brief press release from April 20 reached an agreement with New Space India Limited, the commercial arm of the Indian space agency ISRO, which covers launches from the Satish Dhawan Space Center to an undisclosed number of satellites.
“The first launch with New Space India is scheduled for 2022 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota. The launches will add to OneWeb’s total orbiting constellation of 428 satellites, 66% of the total planned fleet,” OneWeb said in a statement.
Chris McLaughlin, Head of Government, Regulatory Affairs and Engagement at OneWeb, said SpaceNews the company plans to use India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).
He declined to reveal more details.
The GSLV Mark 3 is India’s largest rocket and can lift about 9,000 pounds for LEO, comparable to the Russian Soyuz vehicles that European launch provider Arianespace was using to deploy the OneWeb constellation – before they were stuck in sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
India last launched a GSLV Mark 3 in 2019 as part of the country’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar exploration mission.
The rocket has approximately double the payload performance of the GSLV Mark 2, which has not flown since an August 2021 mission that ended in failure.
The most recent successful launch of the GSLV Mark 2 was in December 2018when the rocket deployed ISRO’s GSAT-7A communications satellite.
Using the Soyuz 2.1b vehicle, Arianespace was 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 on March 4 to find alternative rockets.
With only 66% of its planned constellation of 648 satellites in orbit, OneWeb has only activated connectivity services in the upper parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
OneWeb said March 21 reached an agreement with US-based SpaceX that allows the operator to resume launches this year. However, details such as the timing and number of satellites involved have yet to be announced.
It is unclear whether OneWeb could launch from India before SpaceX in the United States.
Last October, well before OneWeb’s plans to finish deploying its constellation by mid-2022 using Soyuz collapsed, OneWeb announced a letter of intent with NewSpace India Limited to launch its satellites on the GSLV Mark 3 and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) as early as 2022.
At the time, the deal was seen as laying the groundwork for the potential release of at least a portion of OneWeb’s second-generation constellation in the future.
India is also developing a small rocket called the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) which, according to a report from India Todayis scheduled to hold its inaugural launch between July and September after delays.
Although OneWeb is based in London and has the British government as a shareholder, Indian conglomerate Bharti Global holds the largest stake in the company.
OneWeb said January 20 it has signed a six-year agreement to distribute broadband in India through Hughes Communications India Private Ltd (HCIPL), a joint venture between the Bharti Airtel-owned telecommunications company, owned by Bharti Global, and Hughes Network Systems, based in In the USA.
Hughes is a minority shareholder in OneWeb and is building gateways for the operator in India and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Swedish company Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space), which built the dispensers OneWeb used to launch Soyuz rocket spacecraft, said March 21 is building a new facility to double its satellite dispenser production capacity.
The Swedish company is also building dispensers for Amazon’s Project Kuiper megaconstellation, which announced a deal april 5 buy up to 83 releases from Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance.