OneWeb Reaches 60 Percent With Launch Of 36 Satellites

UK-based OneWeb delivers another 36 communications satellites into orbit, as it readies connectivity for northern hemisphere

British satellite internet firm OneWeb continues to grow its constellation of broadband satellites, after another successful launch in Russia.

OneWeb confirmed on its website on Monday the successful launch and contact with all 36 satellites, bringing its total in-orbit constellation to 394 satellites.

This means that OneWeb has launched over 60 percent of its LEO (low Earth orbit) satellite fleet that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity to mostly the northern hemisphere.

Successful launch

This latest batch of satellites will form part of its 648 LEO satellite fleet that will deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband connectivity, covering the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada.

OneWeb intends to make global services available in 2022.

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 its planned 648 satellites.

It will eventually sell bandwidth to consumer-facing internet service providers (ISPs)

Liftoff of the latest launch occurred on Monday 27 December at 13:10pm BST from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, aboard a Soyuz-2.1b rocket.

The solar-powered satellites were placed into their operational orbit, which lies 746 miles (1,200 km) above Earth.

Funding boost

This is the last satellite launch of 2021 for OneWeb, and comes after the firm received big tranches of funding from outside partners during the year.

In April this year French satellite operator Eutelsat invested $550m in OneWeb, joining other leading shareholders namely the British government and Bharti Global. That deal was completed on 8 September.

Then in October Eutelsat exercised a call option for a consideration of $165 million. This took its shareholding from 17.6 percent to 22.9 percent.

Growing demand

OneWeb said that it continues to see growing demand for its services.

In the past month, OneWeb has signed distribution partner agreements with Airbus to provide LEO services for military and governmental use in Europe as well announcing a new Canadian-headquartered distribution partner, Network Innovations, and Vocus to expand enterprise connectivity in Australia.

These agreements, along with other recent strategic partnership announcements with AT&T, Hughes Network Systems, BT, and Leonardo DRS, will further OneWeb towards its goal of bringing improved digital communication services to some of the hardest to reach parts of the world.

Additionally, OneWeb acquired TrustComm in 2021, now OneWeb Technologies, which is focused on meeting the complex needs of government customers.

Other competition

“OneWeb now has over sixty percent of its global satellite fleet in space,” noted Sunil Bharti Mittal, OneWeb executive chairman. “It is an extraordinary achievement for a company that was reborn just a year ago.”

“Today’s launch is a great way for OneWeb to complete a highly successful year,” added Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO. “With more than sixty percent of our constellation now in space, the business is fully-funded and we have a growing workforce of more than 400 people.”

“I have been immensely proud to lead the business and our team over the last year as we continue to make substantial progress launching our global network, and I look forward to building on this momentum in 2022,” said Masterson.

OneWeb will have some competition, namely Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has already launched more than 1,900 of its Starlink broadband satellites (with many more the come) and is currently beta-testing the network’s service.

Amazon plans to loft its own internet-satellite constellation, although it has yet to place any satellites into orbit.