India’s space exploration organization’s heaviest rocket, the LVM3-M2, successfully launched 36 broadband communications satellites from a UK-based customer into intended orbits on its first commercial mission on Sunday, the space agency said, describing the mission as “historic”.
OneWeb Ltd is the UK-based customer of NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO and a global communications network operated from space, enabling internet connectivity for governments and businesses. Bharti Enterprises is a key investor in OneWeb.
With Sunday’s success, ISRO overcame the anomaly encountered on its Aug. 7 Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) mission that rendered the satellites unusable.
Early Sunday, a beaming ISRO Chairman S. Somanath announced that Deepavali had gotten an early start for the space agency’s scientists.
“The LVM3 M2/OneWeb India-1 mission has been successfully completed. All 36 satellites were placed in their intended orbits. @NSIL_India @OneWeb,” ISRO said in a tweet minutes after Somanath announced 16 satellites had been placed in desired orbits while the rest would take a little more time.
All 36 satellites were put into orbit here about 75 minutes after the rocket was launched from the spaceport.
Addressing the gathering at the Mission Control Center, Somanath said the celebrations began at the Satish Dhawan Space Center when LVM3 and its first-ever commercial mission very accurately reached orbit.
“Now the rocket has entered orbit, 16 of the 36 satellites have already been injected. I wanted to tell you that this is a slow process of satellite separation. The data of the separation of the remaining 20 satellites will come a little later, and mission operations to observe this separation will continue,” he said previously. ISRO later confirmed that the intended goal of the mission was achieved.
Former ISRO bosses K Sivan and AS Kiran Kumar and Sunil Mittal, founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises, among others, witnessed the launch from the Mission Control Center.
Somanath, also Secretary of the Space Department, called the mission “historic” and credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support for the mission’s success.
“Congratulations to the entire launch vehicle team for taking the opportunity and preparing it for the historic mission today. I would also like to thank the OneWeb team for trusting us to host LVM3. We are very confident that LVM3’s next mission will do the same to place the remaining 36 satellites contracted by NSIL,” he said.
NSIL Chairman and Chief Executive D. Radhakrishnan, who joined the ISRO team for a “laudable” mission of LVM3, said: “The three key players in this particular mission, NSIL, ISRO and OneWeb India, have shown the world how you sign contracts and execute mission in less than 3-4 months.” Earlier, at the end of the 24-hour countdown, the 43.5-meter high rocket majestically descended from the second at 00:07 on Sunday at a pre-determined time Launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center up here.
The vehicle is also said to be one of the heaviest as it can carry satellites up to 8,000 kg. The entire mission to place 36 satellites took about 75 minutes from launch, as scientists had to turn off the engine to place the satellites in their respective orbits.
Sunday’s mission marks several important milestones as the LVM3-M2 mission is the first commercial mission for the launch vehicle.
According to ISRO, OneWeb’s 36-satellite vehicle carried the heaviest payloads, becoming the first Indian missile with a payload of 5,796 kg.
Mission Director Thaddeus Baskar said: “The mission was a request from the ISRO Chairman for this team to carry out the mission in a very short time of less than three months.” “Once the requirement was defined, the entire ISRO team faced the situation and worked with full vigour. There was no place to sleep during the entire schedule and everything has to be done right the first time,” he said.
The launch is also the first for LVM3-M2, in which the satellites will be placed in Low Earth Orbit (LEO – up to 1,200 km above Earth) as opposed to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).
ISRO scientists had renamed the launch vehicle from GSLV-Mk III to LVM3-M2 because the latest rocket is capable of launching 4,000-kilogram-class satellites in GTO and 8,000-kg payload in LEO.
The LVM3-M2 mission would give the space agency a boost with the new launch vehicle designed to launch satellites into low Earth orbit, along with ISRO’s reliable workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
The rocket is a three-stage launch vehicle consisting of two solid-propellant S200 strap-ons on the sides and a core stage that includes an L110 liquid stage and a C25 cryogenic stage.
OneWeb implements a constellation of 648 satellites in Low Earth Orbit. While 36 satellites were launched on Sunday, another set of satellites should be launched into orbit by early 2023, ISRO said.