OneWeb To Use SpaceX Rockets For Satellite Launches

British satellite internet firm OneWeb has successfully made alternative launch plans, after the problems caused by Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb announced that it and Elon Musk’s Space X have “…entered into an agreement that will enable OneWeb to resume satellite launches.”

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

Falcon 9 booster lifts off from Kennedy Space Centrer in Florida to take Crew Dragon capsule into orbit. Image credit: SpaceX

Russian demands

In December London-based OneWeb had 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.

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, spilled over and 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 the company as another condition for launch.

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

Roscosmos it should be noted 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.

Of course the British government flatly refused to entertain the Russian space agency demands.

SpaceX agreement

With Russia now out of the question, this left OneWeb without a means to launch its satellites.

Until Monday that is, when OneWeb and SpaceX reached an agreement that will enable OneWeb to resume satellite launches.

OneWeb said the first launch with SpaceX is anticipated in 2022 and will add to it’s total in-orbit constellation that currently stands at 428 satellites, or 66 percent of the fleet.

“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson.

“With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish building out our full fleet of satellites and deliver robust, fast, secure connectivity around the globe.”

The firm said that demand for OneWeb’s broadband connectivity services has continued to grow across telecommunications providers, aviation and maritime markets, and governments worldwide.

OneWeb has activated service with its network at the 50th parallel and above, and early partners are initiating service.

It is not clear at the time of writing whether OneWeb was able to recover its delayed 36 satellites from Russia’s Roscosmos.

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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