OneWeb ‘Milestone’ Launch Of Another 36 Satellites

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Latest satellite launchin Russia by government-owned OneWeb, increases total number of in-orbit constellation to 146 satellites

Satellite internet firm OneWeb has successfully delivered another 36 satellites into orbit with its latest rocket launch in Russia.

OneWeb announced the latest launch by Arianespace from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia was a key milestone for its ‘Five to 50’ ambition.

The successful launch of 36 satellites bolstered its in-orbit constellation to 146 satellites, and means the firm is on track to cover 50 degrees Latitude and above by the end of year, with three more launches to go.

Milestone launch

OneWeb said these 146 satellites will form part of its 648 LEO satellite fleet that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity.

OneWeb said its connectivity services will cover the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada, and will be switched on before the end of the year.

OneWeb then intends to make global services available in 2022, and this month it demonstrated its service to the US Government, and will be rolling out additional demonstration kits and demo centres in locations such as the UK, Alaska, Maryland and more.

“This is the second of our ‘Five to 50’ launch series and represents a key moment in OneWeb’s return,” noted Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO. “The next launch in the series is scheduled for the end of April, as we continue our drive towards commercial service this year.”

“OneWeb is rising to the challenge of our mission to provide connectivity to everyone, everywhere, all the time,” Masterson added. “Backed by exemplary shareholders, we are connecting the world.”

“This latest launch is yet another boost for OneWeb and their ambitious plans to connect people and businesses across the globe to fast and reliable broadband,” noted Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “Our support for OneWeb puts the UK at the forefront of the latest advances in space technology and demonstrates our commitment to grow Britain’s competitive advantage in this field.”

Secured future

OneWeb had been brought out of bankruptcy in November last year after its future was secured by the British Government, along with Indian conglomerate Bharti Global Ltd.

OneWeb had gone into administration in March 2020, despite raising $3 billion (£2.4bn) in venture funding since its founding, and putting 74 satellites into orbit.

The firm had made the decision to file for bankruptcy protection in the United States as the Coronavirus lockdown began, after it ran out of cash and failed to secure additional funding.

Lead investor Softbank, which had led two previous funding rounds in 2016 and 2019, had backed away from further funding talks with OneWeb.

But then in July 2020 the British government, alongside Bharti Global Limited, announced they would acquire the firm for $1 billion.

The Government reportedly took a £400 million stake in London-based OneWeb.

Bharti, via its Bharti Airtel division, is the third largest mobile operator in the world, with over 425 million customers, and has “its own extensive mobile broadband networks and enterprise business, which will act as the testing ground for all OneWeb products, services, and applications.”

Crowded market?

In February 2020 OneWeb had launched 34 satellites into orbit to join the first six broadband satellites in February 2019.

The firm had added another 34 satellites in March 2020, just before it entered Chapter 11.

Unlike SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb intends to sell its connectivity services to governments and corporate customers that provide internet service to airplanes, ships and boats, via 648 satellites.

It will eventually sell bandwidth to consumer-facing internet providers

Yet rival SpaceX continues to build and launch its own constellation of internet satellites.

SpaceX currently has a total of 1,000 broadband satellites in orbit for the Starlink network – but it should be noted that its network architecture and reach requires more satellites than OneWeb.

In January 2021, Ofcom approved Space X Starlink satellite broadband service for use in the United Kingdom.

Other companies are also racing to construct satellite-based broadband networks.

These include Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which intends to deploy a 3,200-satellite network known as Project Kuiper.

Additional players include Kepler, LeoSat and Telesat Canada.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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