The countdown begins for ISRO’s historic rocket launch

The Indian Space Agency Saturday at 00:07 began the 24-hour countdown for the launch of its heavy rocket GSLV Mk III – renamed for this mission LVM3 M2 – carrying 36 “OneWeb” satellites.

The 43.5-meter-tall and 644-tonne LVM3 M2 rocket is expected to take off from the first second platform at India’s rocket port at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh at 00:07 a.m. on Sunday.

“The countdown is proceeding smoothly. Gas and propellant filling operations for the L110 stage are progressing,” said an Indian space research organization (ISRO) official says IANS.

During the countdown, rocket and satellite systems will be checked. The rocket fuel will also be filled.

Normally the GSLV rocket is used to launch India’s geostationary communications satellites. And hence, it was named Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The GSLV MkIII refers to the third generation rocket.

As the rocket that will fly Sunday morning will be in orbit around OneWeb satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), ISRO has renamed GSLV MkIII to LVM3 (Launch Vehicle MkIII).

The rocket, just over 19 minutes into its flight, will launch Network Access Associated Ltd’s (OneWeb) 36 small broadband communications satellites into LEO.

OneWeb is a joint venture between India Bharti Global and the UK government.

The satellite company plans to have a constellation of around 650 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) to offer communication services.

The LVM3 M2 is a three-stage rocket with the first stage powered by liquid fuel, the two belt-driven motors powered by solid fuel, the second by liquid fuel, and the third is the cryogenic engine.

ISRO’s heavy rocket has a payload capacity of 10 tons to LEO and four tons to Geographic Transfer Orbit (GTO).

“The total launch mass of the OneWeb satellites will be 5,796 kg,” ISRO said.

The 36 satellites will be on a distribution system made by the Swiss company Beyond Gravity, formerly RUAG Space.

Previously, Beyond Gravity provided the satellite distributors for the launch of 428 OneWeb satellites to Arianespace.

“The distributor with 36 satellites was provided by the vendor. It has been used in all their previous launches,” the official told IANS.

For Beyond Gravity, this is the first time that their dispenser has been installed in an Indian rocket.

Since 1999, ISRO has put 345 foreign satellites into orbit to date.

The successful launch of 36 OneWeb satellites will bring the total to 381.

Another set of 36 OneWeb satellites are scheduled to be launched in January 2023.

This launch brings OneWeb’s constellation to 462 satellites, more than 70% of the satellites needed for OneWeb to achieve global coverage.

According to ISRO, the OneWeb constellation operates in a LEO polar orbit.

The satellites are arranged in 12 rings (orbital planes) with 49 satellites in each plane. The orbital planes are tilted to be near polar (87.9 degrees) and 1,200 km above Earth.

Each satellite makes a complete revolution around the earth every 109 minutes.

The earth rotates under the satellites, so they will always fly over new places on the ground. The constellation will have 648 satellites.

NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO, has signed two contracts with Network Access Associated Ltd (OneWeb) to launch the latter’s broadband communications satellites into low Earth orbit.

OneWeb’s board had voted to suspend satellite launches from Russia’s Baikonur rocket port.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s rocket mission has several firsts for India’s space sector. This is the first commercial launch of the GSLV MkIII and for the first time an Indian rocket will carry a payload of around six tons. Similarly, OneWeb is using an Indian rocket to put its satellites into orbit for the first time. Additionally, this is the first commercial GSLV MkIII launch contracted by NSIL, and for the first time a renamed GSLV MkIII is used to launch satellites in LEO.

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