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Launches: OneWeb to Provide Global Service, Chinese Rocket to Debut

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 27, 2023
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Launches: OneWeb to Provide Global Service, Chinese Rocket to Debut
LVM III rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites in March 2023. (Credit: ISRO)

OneWeb said it can now offer global broadband service following the launch of 36 satellites aboard an Indian LVM III booster on Sunday. Relativity Space looked on the bright side following the failed maiden launch of its new Terran 1 booster. And a new Chinese rocket is set to debut this week.

ISRO launched 36 OneWeb satellites aboard a LVM III rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. The 18th launch of OneWeb satellites raised the constellation size to 616, enabling the company to provide global broadband service.

Orbital Launches
March 20 – 26

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
March 22Kuaizhou 1A – ExPaceTianmu-1 03–06 – Xiyong MicroelectronicsMeteorologyJiuquan
March 23Terran 1 – Relativity Space
NoneFlight testCape Canaveral
March 23Soyuz-2.1a – RVSN RF*Bars-M No. 4 – VKS+ReconnaissancePlesetsk
March 24Electron – Rocket LabBlackSky 18, 19 – BlackSkyEarth observationMahia
March 24 Falcon 9 – SpaceX56 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
March 26LVM III – ISRO^36 OneWeb – OneWebCommunicationsSatish Dhawan
*Russian Strategic Rocket Forces
+Russian Aerospace Forces
^Indian Space Research Organisation

OneWeb satellites were launched on 13 Russian Soyuz-2.1b and Soyuz ST-B rockets from February 2019 until February 2022. Six more Soyuz launches were planned, but the deal collapsed after European nations imposed sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine last February.

Russia ended up with 36 satellites that it didn’t launch. OneWeb recently said it has given up on getting the satellites back.

Since Russian launches ended, India has launched 72 OneWeb satellites on a pair of LVM III rockets. SpaceX has launched 120 OneWeb spacecraft on three Falcon 9 rockets. Elon Musk’s company is set to launch 15 more OneWeb satellites in May from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle lifts off with BlackSky satellites
An Electron launches two BlackSky satellites from New Zealand on March 24, 2023. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab resumed launches from New Zealand on March 24 after conducting its first two launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. An Electron placed two BlackSky Earth observation satellites into orbit.

Engineers at Relativity Space are studying data to determine why of the liquid oxygen/liquid methane powered second stage engine on its Terran 1 rocket failed after ignition. Company officials said that despite the failure, they were happy with the performance of the booster’s first stage during the maiden flight.

Relativity Space's Terran 1 launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral
Terran 1 on the launch pad. (Credit: Relativity Space)

Terran 1 stands 33.5 m (110 ft.) tall and is powered by nine first stage Aeon engines and one second stage Aeon engine that use liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas. The rocket has the following payload capacities:

  • 1,250 kg (2,756 lb) to 185 km (115 miles) low Earth orbit (LEO)
  • 900 kg (1,984 lb) to 500 km (311 miles) sun-synchronous orbit (SSO)
  • 700 kg (1,534 lb) to 1,200 km (746 miles) SSO.

Relativity Space is advertising dedicated launches at $12 million.

Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off from Florida
A Falcon 9 launches the SES-18 and SES-19 communications satellites in March 2023. (Credit: SpaceX)

Upcoming Launches

Space Pioneer will attempt to become the first private Chinese company to successfully launch a liquid-fuel rocket this week. Tianlong-2 is a two-stage booster capable of launching 2,000 kilograms (4,409 lb) to LEO or 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) to a 500-kilometer (311-mile) SSO.

Upcoming Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
March 29Tianlong-2 – Space PioneerJinta – Hunan Hangsheng Satellite TechnologyTech demoJiuquan
March 29Soyuz-2.1v – RVSN RF*TBATBAPlesetsk
March 29Falcon 9 – SpaceXStarlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
March 30Falcon 9 – SpaceX8 Transport Layer Tranche 0, 2 Tracking Layer Tranche 0 – SDA^Military CommunicationsVandenberg
* Russian Strategic Rocket Forces
^ Space Development Agency

SpaceX has two launches scheduled this week from opposite coasts. The company will launch the first satellites for the Space Development Agency’s military communications and missile early warning constellations.

China’s ExPace scrubbed a planned launch of the Kuaizhou-1A rocket on Monday. The flight could be rescheduled for later this week.

Orbital Launches

With at least five additional launches scheduled through Friday, the global total is likely to exceed 50 for the first quarter of 2023. That would put the world on a pace to conduct 200 launches in a single year. There were a record 187 launch attempts last year, with 178 successes, seven failures and one partial failure.

Orbital Launches by Nation
Through March 26

United States2332655.3

The United States continues to lead the world in both total launch attempts, successes and failures. China is in second place with 12 successful launches. The country has said it plans to launch at least 60 times this year.

Russia is in third place with five launches. India and Japan have launched two times apiece.

Europe is not yet on the board. Arianespace’s final two Ariane 5 launches are scheduled for April 13 and June 21. Its successor, Ariane 6, is scheduled to make its maiden flight at the end of this year.

Europe’s Vega-C rocket is grounded after suffering a second-stage failure during its second launch in December. Officials have not set a date for Vega-C’s return to flight.

The smaller Vega booster is scheduled for launch in the second half of the year. The rocket uses a different second stage than the larger Vega-C, so it is unaffected by the launch failure.

Launches by Company/Agency
Through March 26

SpaceX (USA)200207060
CASC* (China)10010260
Roscosmos (Russia)40440
Rocket Lab (USA)30370
ISRO (India)202390
Galactic Energy (China)10150
ExPace (China)10140
MHI^ (Japan)10110
RVSN RF+ (Russia)10110
Virgin Orbit (USA)01109
ABL Space Systems (USA)01102
JAXA (Japan)01101
Relativity Space (USA)01100
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
^ Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
+ Russian Strategic Rocket Forces

SpaceX has launched 20 times, with a Falcon rocket lifting off on average every four days. The company has launched 706 satellites into orbit, including:

  • 495 Starlink communications satellites on 10 launches
  • 114 rideshare satellites on a single launch
  • 80 OneWeb satellites on two launches
  • five geosynchronous communications satellites on four launches
  • Crew and Cargo Dragon missions to the International Space Station.

Elon Musk’s company is looking to launch 100 times this year. It tied a 42-year-old Soviet record with 61 successful launches in 2022.

SpaceX’s closest American competitor is Rocket Lab, which has launched seven satellites on three Electron boosters. Neither United Launch Alliance nor Northrop Grumman has launched thus far.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has conducted 10 of that nation’s 12 launches. ExPace and Galactic Energy conducted the other two launches. In all, China has placed 35 satellites into orbit.

Launches by Booster
Through March 26

Launch VehicleCompany/AgencySuccessesFailuresTotal
Falcon 9SpaceX19019
ElectronRocket Lab303
Long March 2CCASC*303
Soyuz-2.1aRoscosmos, RVSN RF303
Long March 2DCASC*202
Long March 3B/ECASC*202
Ceres-1Galactic Energy101
Falcon HeavySpaceX101
Kuaizhou 1AExPace101
Long March 7ACASC*101
Long March 4CCASC*101
Long March 11CASC*101
LauncherOneVirgin Orbit011
RS1ABL Space Systems011
Terran 1Relativity Space011
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
~ Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
+ Indian Space Research Organisation
^ Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is the most launched rocket in the world. The Long March 2C and 2D variants have launched a combined five times. Rocket Lab’s Electron and Russia’s Soyuz-2.1a have launched three times apiece.

Three rockets — ABL Space’s RS1, JAXA’s H3 and Relativity Space’s Terran 1 — failed on their maiden flights. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed on its sixth flight.

Launches by Location
Through March 26

Cape CanaveralUSA11112
Mid-Atlantic Regional SpaceportUSA202
Pacific Spaceport Complex – AlaskaUSA011
Satish DhawanIndia202
MahiaNew Zealand101

The 16 launches from Florida make up 34% of all orbital attempts worldwide. Vandenberg Space Force Base in California has hosted five launches, with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia hosting a pair of flights by Rocket Lab’s Electron booster.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center leads all Chinese spaceports with six launches, which is double that of the nation’s three other spaceports. Most of the private companies developing small satellite boosters launch from Jiuquan.

Russia has launched four times from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and once from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

INNOSPACE's Hanbit-TLV maiden flight
Hanbit-TLV suborbital rocket launch (Credit: INNOSPACE)

Suborbital Launches

South Korean startup Innospace conducted a successful maiden launch of its HANBIT-TLV suborbital rocket from Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Center on March 19. The rocket’s payload was the SISNAV inertial navigation system built by the Brazilian Air Force’s Department of Aviation Science and Technology.

Suborbital Launches
March 19 – 23
Excludes Ballistic Missile Tests

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
March 19HANBIT-TLV – InnospaceSISNAV – DCTA*Flight test – Tech demoAlcantara
March 23Improved Malemute/Improved Orion – Swedish Space Corp.BROR – Swedish Institute of Space PhysicsAuroral ionosphereEsrange
March 23Black Brant IX – NASAVortEX – Clemson UniversityVapor trail deploymentAndoya
March 23Terrier-Improved Orion – NASAVortEX – Clemson UniversityGravity wave researchAndoya
* Brazilian Air Force’s Department of Aerospace Science and Technology

Hanbit-TLV uses a 15-ton hybrid engine powered by liquid oxygen and paraffin. The single-stage booster is 16.3 m (53.5 ft) in height, 1 m (3.3 ft) in diameter, and weighs 9.2 metric tons (10.25 tons).

Hanbit-TLV is Innospace’s first step toward developing a family of small launch vehicles, including:

  • Hanbit-Nano: 50 kg (110 lb) to 500 km (310.7 mile) SSO
  • Hanbit-Micro: 150 kg (330.7 lb) to 500 km (310.7 mile) SSO
  • Hanbit-Mini: 500 kg (1,102 lb) to 500 km (310.7 mile) SSO.

Suborbital Launches by Location
Through March 23
Excludes Ballistic Missile Tests

Launch SiteNationLaunches

Scandinavia has hosted three suborbital launches, with two from the Andoya Space Center in Norway and one from Esrange in Sweden. Two suborbital launches have been conducted from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil hosted one launch.

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