SpaceX to Launch OneWeb Satellites After Russian Deal Collapses

OneWeb has partnered with satellite internet rival SpaceX after its launch agreement with Russia fell apart over the war in Ukraine.

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The satellite internet company OneWeb will rely on a competitor, SpaceX, to launch at least part of its remaining constellation into orbit after its original deal with Russia’s space agency rapidly fell apart over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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

OneWeb, which is jointly owned by the government of the United Kingdom and the Indian company Bharti Global, has launched about two thirds of its 648-satellite constellation on Russia’s Soyuz rockets. But the company’s relationship with Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, quickly deteriorated in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. 

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In response to sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom and other nations, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin refused to use Russian rockets to launch a batch of OneWeb satellites that had been scheduled for March 5. As a condition of resuming Soyuz launches, Rogozin demanded that the British government sell its stake in OneWeb, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and assure Roscosmos that the satellites would have no military applications.

The ultimatum was a non-starter for OneWeb and its owners, forcing the company to suspend all further launches with Russia and to search for another launch provider midway through the multi-year process of deploying its constellation, which is one of many satellite networks, including SpaceX’s Starlink, that aim to provide global broadband internet from space. 

SpaceX has already launched nearly 1,500 of its own Starlink satellites and will now aid OneWeb’s journey to orbit after the collapse of its partnership with Roscosmos. OneWeb launches on SpaceX rockets should resume later this year, though it is not clear yet if OneWeb will depend on SpaceX to launch all of its remaining satellites.

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It might seem strange for two rival companies to forge this kind of deal, but OneWeb and SpaceX are targeting different parts of the satellite internet market, according to Chris McLaughlin, who serves as OneWeb’s chief of government, regulatory, and engagement.

“We see them as being a broad-based consumer internet supplier,” McLaughlin told The Verge. “They do a very good job there. We see ourselves as a more niche, government, polar enterprise service. Very, very different products.”

The dissolution of OneWeb’s partnership with Roscosmos is just one example of the increasing isolation of Russia’s space sector in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. Last week, the European Space Agency announced the suspension of an upcoming launch of a Russian-European mission to look for life on Mars. Rogozin has also hinted that Russia will pull out of its role on the International Space Station in the coming years, which would fundamentally alter the composition and operations of the orbital laboratory.

 


 

Tagged:

Satellites, Space, Ukraine, Abstract, orbit, SpaceX, Russian invasion, Roscosmos, OneWeb, Dmitry Rogozin, megaconstellations

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