The Russian invasion of Ukraine has impacted British satellite internet firm OneWeb, in a surprising development.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has refused to allow the launch of 36 OneWeb satellites on Friday 4 March, after issuing a number of demands to the British government.

OneWeb, it should be remembered, was brought out of bankruptcy by the British Government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global. French satellite operator Eutelsat has also subsequently made multiple investments to also obtain a stake in OneWeb.

Roscosmos demand

But amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the huge wave of global sanctions and restrictions against Russia, OneWeb has been dragged into the conflict.

OneWeb contracted with France-based Arianespace to launch its satellites, which in turn used Roscosmos to deliver the satellites to low earth orbit.

In December London-based OneWeb revealed that its total in-orbit constellation compromised 394 satellites, which meant it had launched over 60 percent of its LEO (low Earth orbit) satellite fleet needed to deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity to mostly the northern hemisphere.

But now according to Space.com, Roscosmos is refusing to launch OneWeb satellites unless the firm meets new demands. This is despite the launches already being brought and paid for.

Director-General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that the agency will not launch the satellites as planned if the company does not guarantee that the satellites will not be used for UK military purposes.

And Roscosmos further demanded that the United Kingdom government remove its investment in the company as another condition for launch.

It said if these demanded were not met by 6.30pm on Friday, the launch would not take place.

UK refusal

And it is fairly clear the UK will not meet Russian demands.

“There’s no negotiation on OneWeb: the UK Government is not selling its share,” tweeted Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. “We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps.”

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, amid emerging reports of war crimes by Russia’s military, the world has almost universally condemned Russia.

Global sanctions against the Russian state are now starting to bite, but Moscow is responding.

For example Roscosmos has also cut ties with its other long-time partners, citing the sanctions as rationale.

On 26 February the Russian space agency said it would no longer collaborate with the European Space Agency at the European spaceport in French Guiana, on the north coast of South America.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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