The Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen OneWeb lose access to the Soyuz spacecraft it had relied upon to launch its satellites
OneWeb, the UK-based satellite firm, has been launching low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites steadily for the past two years, aiming for its constellation to reach global coverage later this year.
However, in the past month these plans have fallen into jeopardy, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine throwing the company’s use of Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to launch additional satellites into doubt.
OneWeb was due to launch its latest batch of 36 satellites on the 4th of March, but instead was sent a list of demands by Russian space agency, Roscosmos, who threatened to cancel the launch if these conditions were not met. Included within these demands were assurances that the OneWeb satellites would not be used for military purposes
OneWeb is notably partly owned by the UK government, who helped rescue the company from bankruptcy back in 2020. The UK government is currently applying a wide range of sanctions against Russia as a result of the unlawful invasion of Ukraine.
Unable to meet these demands, OneWeb subsequently ordered its employees to leave Baikonur Cosmodrome, the spaceport situated in southern Kazakhstan from which the Soyuz flights are typically launched.
As a result, for the past few weeks the future of OneWeb’s constellation has been somewhat unclear. Now, however, it seems that an unlikely partnership with rival SpaceX could be the solution to the satellite operator’s troubles.
Today, the OneWeb has announced that SpaceX has agreed to help launch the last of the constellation’s satellites.
“The first launch with SpaceX is anticipated in 2022 and will add to OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation that currently stands at 428 satellites, or 66 percent of the fleet,” said the press release.
The company is aiming for 648 satellites for complete global coverage.
“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.
SpaceX, of course, owns and operates their own much larger LEO satellite constellation, Starlink.
The exact details of the partnership have yet to be announced but will presumably become clearer in the coming months.
While this partnership may seem somewhat odd, with both companies launching theoretically competing satellite connectivity solutions, in fact both companies have long been at pains to stress that they will not be direct competitors.
OneWeb is set to primarily target governments for its LEO services, while Starlink will focus on the consumer segment.