British satellite internet firm OneWeb has signed another rocket launch agreement with another organisation, after the problems caused by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb announced it has signed a contract with New Space India to launch OneWeb satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, later in 2022.

Last month OneWeb and Elon Musk’s Space X “entered into an agreement that will enable OneWeb to resume satellite launches.”

A Falcon 9 rocket. Image credit: SpaceX

Network launch

Terms of that deal with SpaceX remain confidential, but the move surprised some, considering SpaceX is launching a competitor satellite network known as Starlink.

Previously, London-based OneWeb had been launching most of its satellites from Russian facilities.

In December OneWeb revealed that its total in-orbit constellation was made up of 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 it has already added to this number, with a total in-orbit constellation of 428 satellites, which is 66 percent of the planned total fleet.

OneWeb intends to have a 648 LEO (low Earth orbit) 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, and indeed, it has already activated service with its network at the 50th parallel and above.

Russian exit

OneWeb had expected to launch another 36 satellites on Friday 4 March from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, aboard a Soyuz-2.1b rocket.

However Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the huge wave of global condemnation and sanctions that it provoked, impacted OneWeb.

For years OneWeb had contracted with France-based Arianespace to launch its satellites, which in turn used Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to deliver the satellites to low earth orbit.

Stung by the global sanctions and Russia’s collapsing economy, Roscosmos refused to allow the launch of 36 OneWeb satellites, and then publicly issued a number of demands to the British government before it would carry out its contracted launch, which had already brought and paid for.

Roscosmos Director-General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that the agency would 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 OneWeb as another condition for launch.

Roscosmos said if these demanded were not met, the launch would not take place. Roscosmos 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.

Of course the British government flatly refused to entertain the Russian space agency demands, resulting in OneWeb reaching a launch agreement with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

India deal

And now OneWeb has signed a confidential contract with New Space India to begin satellite launches later this year from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota (a barrier island off the Bay of Bengal coast).

New Space India Ltd is the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the agreement will help ensure OneWeb completes its satellite launch programme.

“This is yet another historic day for collaboration in space, thanks to the shared ambition and vision of New Space India and OneWeb,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, OneWeb executive chairman.

“This most recent agreement on launch plans adds considerable momentum to the development of OneWeb’s network, as we work together across the space industry toward our common goal of connecting communities globally,” said Bharti Mittal.

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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