March 21, 2022
The low Earth orbit satellite communication company, OneWeb has announced today that they have made an agreement with SpaceX to enable OneWeb to resume satellite launches. This comes after the company has stopped using the Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their last mission was targeted for March 4th but on launch day the Russians removed the rocket carrying 36 OneWeb satellites from the launch pad. It then came that on March 2nd, OneWeb ordered its employees in Kazakhstan to leave and announced it was suspending all launches from the Baikonur site.
Russian Space Agency officials demanded OneWeb to promise their satellites would not be used for any military purposes as a condition of launch. Clearly this was not a condition OneWeb would or could promise. The Soyuz rocket and the thirty-six satellites are now back in the assembly and testing facility at Baikonur after being taken there by a transporter covered in the same markings being used by Russian forces in Ukraine. It is not clear at this time if or when the satellites will be returned to the owners.
The first launch with SpaceX is anticipated for later this year and will continue to grow their constellation of 428 satellites currently in orbit. OneWeb stated that their current operational satellites are 66% of the fleet.
“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space. 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.” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson. The terms of the agreement are confidential but the demand for these satellites has pushed the company into finding a launch provider sooner rather than later as their services continue to grow across telecommunication providers, along with aviation and maritime markets, and governments world wide. Currently OneWeb has service activated with their network at the 50th parallel and above.