OneWeb, the global commercial satellite operator, will launch some of its remaining satellites with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The move comes in the aftermath of Roscosmos, the Russian central space agency, refusing to launch OneWeb satellites aboard its Soyuz rocket due to ongoing geopolitical tensions. ISRO is now the second vendor for OneWeb, after USA’s SpaceX, with which the company plans to launch its remaining satellites.
On March 9, a OneWeb spokesperson had told Mint that the company was “looking at all available options” in the space sector, including ISRO, to complete its launch schedule. The statement came a week after Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of Roscosmos, had publicly said that Russia would not launch any further OneWeb satellites unless the UK government withdrew its economic sanctions against the country, and sold its stake in OneWeb.
OneWeb is a British satellite operator that was saved from bankruptcy by the UK government and Indian telecom conglomerate, Bharti Enterprises. The latter presently holds a near-40% stake, making it the largest stakeholder of the satellite operator. Going forward, Airtel and OneWeb, along with Hughes Network Systems, is expected to start offering satellite-based internet services by the end of the year.
For this, OneWeb is in process of deploying a constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that would help beam internet connectivity down to Earth. The company has already launched 428 satellites into its planned constellation of 648 satellites, bringing its overall completion rate up to 66%. These satellites reside in an orbit closer to Earth and constantly orbit the planet, offering connectivity in a relay configuration of sorts.
Subsequent to being snubbed by Roscosmos, on March 21, OneWeb announced that it has partnered with SpaceX as one of the vendors to complete the remaining launches. Earlier today, it affirmed that it has also struck a deal with New Space India Limited (NSIL), the public sector undertaking (PSU) tasked with fetching foreign clients to travel aboard ISRO’s satellite launch vehicles.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises and executive chairman of OneWeb, said that the association with ISRO would add “considerable momentum” towards OneWeb’s plans to start its commercial operations soon.
The company has said that the first launch mission is expected some time this year, without giving any timeline for the same. ISRO is expected to conduct its next launch with the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)-C53 mission in the coming weeks. However, the PSLV-C53 launch already has India’s Oceansat-3 ocean observation satellite and Bhutan’s INS-2B satellite as primary payloads, suggesting that it may carry OneWeb’s satellites to orbit in a later mission.
While OneWeb still plans to begin commercial services in select areas around the world by the end of 2022, the Russia setback has likely pushed back its overall schedule. Shivaji Chatterjee, senior vice-president at Hughes Communications, had told Mint last month that the delay could amount to at least “a couple of months,” in order to make up for the lost satellites and find new launch partners.