Aerospace & Defence

OneWeb to use SpaceX for future satellite launches

23rd March 2022
Kiera Sowery

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has massively effected space partnerships, including OneWeb’s launch to add to its in-orbit constellation to deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity.

OneWeb is a communications company building satellite internet services.

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos was due to send OneWeb’s satellites into space soon after the war began, however after confrontation, OneWeb had to pull out of the launch. OneWeb’s in-orbit constellation currently stands at 428 satellites which is 66% of the fleet.

Over the last few years, OneWeb had been launching its satellites exclusively on Russia’s Royuz rocket.

Demand for its broadband connectivity services has continued to grow across telecommunications providers, aviation and maritime markets, and governments across the world.

Three days before OneWeb’s planned launch of 36 satellites on a Russian Soyuz rocket from a Russian spaceport in Kazakhstan, and after a host of Western sanctions were placed on Russia, Roscosmos’ Director General, Dmitry Rogozin demanded that OneWeb cut ties with the British government who had invested $500m in the company in 2020. Rogozin also outlined in an interview that he wanted assurance from OneWeb that its satellites would not be used for military purposes.

OneWeb cancelled all six of its planned launches on the Soyuz rocket, and with it its goal of completing its satellite constellation by August 2022. Neither Britain nor any European country had an available rocket with the correct capabilities, and so OneWeb was considering rockets in the US, India and Japan for its launches.

On Monday 21st March, OneWeb announced that SpaceX will allow it to finish building its constellation of 648 satellites in orbit, allowing them to beam internet under a new timeline. The decision is unusual as SpaceX is a primary rival in the market for beaming high-speed internet from orbit to users on the ground. However, the companies are both targeting different sectors.

SpaceX will sell connection terminals directly to consumers, whereas OneWeb sells its connections to telcos.

Currently, OneWeb’s internet business is active in the Northern Hemisphere, but the company will no longer meet its goal in providing a full global service in August 2022.

Starlink, SpaceX’s internet constellation relies on thousands more satellites at a lower altitude. It is available on a pilot basis to some consumers, and has been shipped recently to Ukraine.

OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said: “We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space. 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.”

The company is hopeful that the first launch can take place before the end of the year.

This move, amongst others, highlights the growing isolation of Russia’s space industry from its Western partners.

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