NEW DELHI (AP) – India launched a rocket carrying 36 private internet satellites early Sunday, stepping in to keep the orbital constellation growing after a months-long hiatus related to the war in Ukraine.
The launch from southern India was the first launch for London-based OneWeb since it broke with Russia’s space agency in March over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We have achieved orbit very accurately, now the rocket is in its intended orbit,” said S. Somanath, the chairman of the Indian Space Agency. He said 16 satellites were launched and expressed optimism that “the remaining 20 satellites will be separated as safely as the first of the 16.”
OneWeb now has 462 satellites in flight – more than 70% of what the company needs to deliver broadband services around the world. Despite this year’s hiatus, OneWeb said it remains on track to enable global coverage next year with a planned constellation of 648 satellites. It is already in use in the northernmost latitudes.
Each OneWeb satellite weighs approximately 150 kilograms.
It was the 14th launch of OneWeb satellites and relied on India’s heaviest rocket, normally reserved for government spacecraft. All previous OneWeb flights have been on Russian missiles; the first was in 2019.
The launch is important for India and reflects the gradual opening of its space agency to private customers, said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a director specializing in space and security at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
Rajagopalan said India is an expert in launching smaller satellites and has been trying to capture that market by pitching itself as a satellite launch facility.
With the war still raging in Ukraine, this could open up an opportunity for India as many countries shun Russian carrier services.
“That could drive this trend tremendously,” she said.
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