Dec 6 at 5:36 pm E.T. from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center
This evening the British satellite operator OneWeb has launched forty satellites onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This completes almost 80% of its Low Earth Orbit broadband constellation and marks the first time a single launch has deployed more than thirty-six OneWeb satellites. Previously launching their payloads on Russian Soyuz rockets before the agreement with OneWeb was suspended in March due to the conflict in the Ukraine.
Shortly after OneWeb signed agreements for three launches with SpaceX and two launches with India. New Space India Limite, the commercial aspect of India’s space agency launched the first OneWeb payload on October 22, as thirty-three satellites went up on the country’s GSLV Mark 3 rocket. Once the satellites from this evening are operational, the company can extend coverage across the USA, Europe, and most of the Middle East and Asia.
Back in June SpaceX and OneWeb submitted a letter to the FCC to disregard previously filed dissenting comments which regarded spectrum coordination in LEO. In 2016 SpaceX and OneWeb both submitted proposals for their first generation constellations to the FCC with a second round of proposals in 2020 for each of the companies next generation satellites. Simultaneously both companies submitted complaints with the FCC in an attempt to get a leg up on one another. Now it appears both are operating on much friendlier terms. As of now SpaceX has launched 2,700 Starlink satellites to Low Earth Orbit and has approval for up to 12,000. OneWeb has received similar permission from the FCC and plans to build a constellation of 648 broadband satellites, with eventually bringing the number up to 7,000.
“After extensive good-faith coordination discussions, [SpaceX and OneWeb] are happy to inform the Commission that they agree that their respective first-round systems can efficiently coexist with each other, and that their respective second-round systems can also efficiently coexist,” the companies’ joint letter to the FCC reads, in part.
With the sun setting on the space coast just before lift off, the sky was a dazzling array of pinks, oranges, and yellows. As the engines ignited the sun continued to lower across the distant horizons, yet as the rocket gained altitude the still existing sun rays higher up illuminated it more and more, creating a stunning effect in the sky. This mission also included a polar trajectory for the Falcon 9, meaning the rocket skirted the coast line, heading South unlike the more normal Easterly directions. With separation happening near the Bahamas the second stage continued to orbit as the first stage, the booster began its dissent home, back to LZ-1 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station where roughly nine minutes after lift off she touch down. Marking the fourth successful flight for B1069, this booster had a rocky start as it crash landed on the drone ship Just Read the Instructions back in December of 2021 for the CRS-24 mission. Rough seas, and high waves created unsettling conditions for a booster landing but SpaceX felt like pushing the envelope. The results were nearly catastrophic causing several months of refurbishment before flying again in August of 2022. We last saw B1069 fly in October of this year for the Hotbird 13F mission.