BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Satellites manufactured on Florida’s Space Coast are once again soaring back into space. Saturday’s launch of 36 satellites for British communications company OneWeb marked several milestones.
The satellites, which are manufactured at the Airbus OneWeb Satellites facility on Merritt Island near Kennedy Space Center, launched on Russian Soyuz rockets for the first 13 missions. Now, OneWeb plans to round out its generation one, 648-satellite internet constellation with India’s space agency and SpaceX.
What You Need To Know
- 36 satellites were launched during a mission from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India on Oct. 23 local time.
- This was the first launch for OneWeb since February.
- SpaceX will carry out three missions to launch satellites for OneWeb starting as soon as this year.
The October 22 mission, dubbed LVM3-M2/OneWeb India-1 Mission, was carried out by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO.
They used their Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket. It’s often abbreviated to GSLV Mk. III or LVM3.
“Happy Diwali to all of you! So, we started the celebration early with second operational mission of LVM3 and the first commercial mission of LVM3, said Dr. S. Somanath, the chairman of ISRO and the secretary of India’s Department of Space following the launch.
Diwali, which formally starts on October 24, is the five-day festival of lights in the Hindu faith and is one of the most significant holidays of the year.
“This has been possible by the support of honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi because he wanted LVM3 to come into the commercial market with NSIL in the forefront to operationalize our launch vehicles for exploring the expanding commercial [market],” Somanath said.
Modi also congratulated NSIL on the successful launch of both the mission and the start of his country’s entry into the commercial launch market.
Congratulations @NSIL_India @INSPACeIND @ISRO on the successful launch of our heaviest launch vehicle LVM3 with 36 OneWeb satellites meant for global connectivity. LVM3 exemplifies Atmanirbharta & enhances India’s competitive edge in the global commercial launch service market.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 23, 2022
Saturday’s launch lifted off at 2:37 pm EDT on Oct. 22, (12:07 am IST on Oct. 23) from the launch site Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.
OneWeb said in a press release that its internet constellation now consists of 462 satellites in orbit, which is more than 70 percent of the 648 needed for global coverage.
It aims to reach that goal during 2023.
A huge thanks to the teams at @ISRO and @NSIL_India for a successful lift off!— OneWeb (@OneWeb) October 22, 2022
We will continue to provide updates as our 36 satellites begin to separate and start their life in space.#OneWebLaunch14 🚀 pic.twitter.com/WQacRB9Al5
From Russia, with no love
The Oct. 22 mission was the first launch for OneWeb’s growing constellation since February 10, which was the last time Russia would take on missions for this company. That mid-winter launch saw 34 satellites launch from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana aboard a Soyuz ST-B.
That launch brought the total satellites in the OneWeb orbit up to 428, according to the company.
Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and its Soyuz rockets provided the previous 13 launches for OneWeb. However, after Russia invaded Ukraine, OneWeb was one of several companies that cut ties with the country and began its search for a new launch provider.
On Feb. 15, 36 satellites were delivered to the Baikonur Cosmodrome for an intended March 5 launch, which didn’t take place. OneWeb never stated if they were able to retrieve those after the partnership was dissolved.
Грузовой корабль #ПрогрессМС19 успешно запущен с Байконура, теперь вовсю готовимся к следующему запуску!— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) February 15, 2022
На космодром этой ночью доставили новую партию космических аппаратов #OneWeb. Их запуск запланирован на 5 марта в 01:41 мск 🚀 pic.twitter.com/6Nye9M5qMS
Just over a month later on March 21, OneWeb announced its first new commercial partner in Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Not many details were disclosed about the deal, but stated in a press release that the first launch was anticipated in 2022.
“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson in a statement. “With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish building out our full fleet of satellites and deliver robust, fast, secure connectivity around the globe.”
One month after the SpaceX announcement on April 20, OneWeb announced the NSIL launch agreement. They will have one more launch with NSIL sometime in 2023.
Looking to the future of its satellite constellation, on June 30, OneWeb announced a multi-year, multi-launch contract with Relativity Space, a company manufacturing 3D-printed rockets. This agreement would see the launch of OneWeb’s Gen 2 satellites on Relativity’s reusable Terran R rocket starting in 2025.
“They have an incredible team, technology, and momentum as a world leader in satellite connectivity with hundreds of operational satellites already in orbit,” said Relativity CEO Tim Ellis in a statement at the time. “It is clear that more disruptive launch capacity is needed in the marketplace. Relativity is developing Terran R to fill this additional demand.”
These OneWeb missions would take place from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Florida’s Space Coast.
Space Coast made, Space Coast launched
The satellites for the OneWeb internet constellation are manufactured at Airbus OneWeb Satellites (AOS) on Merritt Island, Florida, which opened in July 2019. AOS came about through a partnership between OneWeb and Netherlands-based Airbus.
The company uses Airbus’ ARROW platform as the basis for the OneWeb constellation. As they showed Spectrum News 13 earlier this year, they designed this satellite system to have a streamlined basic model that can be modified based on the customer’s requests.
AOS currently delivers up to two satellites per day, according to the company.
Earlier this summer, AOS began pivoting to accommodate satellite production not only for the OneWeb constellation, but also for a national security constellation on behalf of the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA). They are in the process of developing the Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) prototype constellation.
The T1TL is a $1.8 billion network of 126 satellites that will start launching in 2024. Contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin Space, York Space Systems and Northrop Grumman in February.
Northrop Grumman was awarded a $692 million agreement from the SDA for 42 satellites and tapped Airbus to manufacture them. That work will be done at AOS in Brevard County.
“We’ve shifted our business strategy so we can remain focused on delivering OneWeb’s Gen1 constellation and we’re investing in advanced manufacturing that will allow us to transition for additional ARROW production for customers in parallel,” AOS CEO James Hines told Spectrum News 13 in a statement.
“We are growing our business by expanding our portfolio of product offerings. This is a good problem to have! One thing about our company is that we never run away from challenges and we are used to pivoting,” he added.
Hinds told Spectrum News 13’s Will Robinson-Smith in August that they were in the process of modifying the factory “to accommodate both current and future production needs.”
And while the launch vehicle for the T1TL missions hasn’t been announced, as Aviation Week first reported in March, SpaceX will launch its thee OneWeb missions from the Space Coast, using the Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX will do the right thing for OneWeb, even though they are a competitor— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 29, 2022