As the clock strikes 12:07 am on Saturday night, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will lift-off its LVM3 rocket on its first commercial launch with the heaviest payload mass of 5,796 kg that it has ever taken up till date. On-board will be 36 foreign satellites of the UK-based One Web to be injected into Earth’s circular Lower Earth Orbit.
It is the fifth launch for the newly designated 43.5-metre-tall rocket from the GSLV series which has already been moved to the second launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota near Chennai.
The launch is part of the ISRO’s commercial arm New Space India (NSIL) first business agreement with OneWeb – which plans to bring high-speed low-latency broadband internet connectivity globally with its first constellation of 648-satellites in space by 2023. Telecom tycoon Sunil Mittal-run Bharti Enterprises is a major investor and shareholder in the company which has already completed 13 launches since it started its programme in 2019. With the latest launch, its fleet of satellites will increase to 464.
Satellites In 12 Planes
OneWeb satellites are placed in 12 rings (orbital planes) with 49 satellites in each plane at 1200-km circular orbit. Each satellite completes a full trip around the Earth every 109 minutes (1.49 hours). The Earth rotates underneath satellites, so they are always flying over new locations on the ground. Each of the satellites can connect to the antennas and ground network below to transmit data in real-time and at high speed as they fly. Once the first phase is completed, each plane will have 49 satellites.
What makes the LVM3-M2 mission unique for ISRO is that the space agency will have to ensure the satellites are separated in multiple batches, while ensuring data availability throughout the process, which will increase the mission duration as well. The satellites would need to be placed in the low earth orbit of 601 km altitude.
First Commercial Launch for ISRO’s Heaviest Launcher
ISRO has so far successfully launched 345 international satellites into space aboard its most reliable medium-lift Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). In 2017, the rocket had injected as many as 103 foreign satellites weighing 1,378 kg along with its Cartosat-2 satellite for mapping. Ninety-six of the satellites belonged to the US and one each to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan and the UAE.
However, with the latest mission, it plans to introduce its heaviest rocket — LVM-3 (from the GSLV series) — to the market of commercial space launches. The rocket is designed to carry heavier satellites of the order of 4,000 kg into space, much higher than the 2,000 kg threshold for the GSLV’s previous rockets. For smaller satellites weighing less than 500 kg, which require less turnaround time, the space agency has developed Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) which undertook its debut mission in August.
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