GSLV MkIII makes commercial push with October 23 launch of 36 OneWeb satellites

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s heaviest rocket, GSLV MkIII, is scheduled to launch 36 satellites of the OneWeb communications constellation from the country’s only spaceport in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, at 7am on October 23. This will see the GSLV MkIII enter the global commercial launch service market.

In a tweet, ISRO said: “LVM3 – M2/OneWeb India-1 Mission: Launch scheduled at 0007. ACTUAL 23 October 2022. Cryostage, Equipment Bay (EB) assembly completed. Satellites are encapsulated and mounted in the vehicle. Final vehicle checks are underway.”

The space agency also opened the viewing gallery for people to witness the launch, which was being conducted for the first time since the pandemic began.

Launch aboard India’s heaviest rocket was purchased by UK-based Network Access Associated Limited through New Space India Limited, one of the space agency’s commercial arms. Supported by the Bharti Group, OneWeb is a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit to provide broadband services.

This is the first time India’s heaviest rocket will be used for a commercial launch. This will also be the first time a rocket other than India’s workhorse – Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) – will be used for a commercial launch.

Since its first operational flight, the PSLV has made at least eight purely commercial launches. The vehicle has established itself in the global market after launching at least 345 foreign satellites from 36 countries, with the most notable flight being the 2017 PSLV-C37 mission, which put 104 satellites into orbit (including 101 foreign commercial satellites ).

This will be the second flight of the GSLV Mk III – having joined the ISRO fleet after two development flights – since it carried India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2.

The other heavier launch vehicle, GSLV, has a more spotty record with fourteen launches so far, including development flights. However, only eight of the missions were a complete success. None of these missions were commercial.

India currently has three operational launch vehicles – PSLV, GSLV and GSLV Mk III. The space agency has also developed a small satellite launch vehicle, the first development flight of which was partially successful earlier this year.

The government opened up the space sector to private actors in 2020, encouraged new activities by existing ISRO employees and also encouraged start-ups offering the full range of activities from launch services to satellite development and downstream applications. There are now over 100 start-ups in the country. The aim of opening up the sector was to allow the private actors to offer routine space services while ISRO focuses on scientific missions.

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