OneWeb Grows Total Constellation To 182 satellites With New Launch

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Latest satellite launch in Russia by government-owned OneWeb, increases total number of in-orbit constellation to 182 satellites

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

OneWeb announced the latest launch by Arianespace, bringing the firm a step closer to its ‘Five to 50’ ambition, which enables the start of commercial service by the end of the year.

It comes after OneWeb launched 36 satellites in late March that grew its total satellites into orbit to 146. Now the total number of satellites in orbit is 182.

Fresh launch

“Lift-off occurred on 25 April at 23:14 BST,” said the firm. “OneWeb’s satellites separated from the rocket and were dispensed in nine batches over a period of 3 hours 52 minutes with signal acquisition on all 36 satellites confirmed.”

The total in-orbit constellation of 182 satellites will form part of its 648 LEO satellite fleet that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity, covering the UK, 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.

The firm has recently demonstrated its service to the US Government, and is rolling out additional demonstration kits and demo centres in locations such as the UK, Alaska, Maryland and more.

“These are exciting times at OneWeb as we get ever closer to bringing our connectivity services to some of the world’s hardest to reach places,” said Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO. “With this third successful launch in our ‘Five to 50’ programme, we are rapidly building momentum: we are launching more satellites, demonstrating the network, and announcing more distribution signings around the globe.”

“We have a world class team and product, and alongside our supportive shareholders, OneWeb continues to work towards bringing connectivity to everyone, everywhere,” said Masterson.

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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