‘UK’s Galileo’ under threat as Putin holds UK satellites hostage after Ukraine invasion

NASA: Expert compares SpaceX to UK’s OneWeb

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The UK’s OneWeb network, while currently carrying out different functions to Galileo, has been tipped to one day rival the EU’s network. It is a constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that beam signals in 3G, 5G, LTE and Wi-Fi for high-speed internet access to all corners of the globe. Many small satellite companies left the UK to take part in Galileo, but they may now be kicking themselves after seeing Britain’s advances in the satellite industry.

The OneWeb project is currently facing threats amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as Russia has previously launched several OneWeb satellites.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos warned that it would not launch the satellites, which are part-owned by the British government without guarantees they will not be used for military purposes, or if the Government gives up its shares of the project.

Roscosmos was scheduled to launch a batch of 36 OneWeb satellites on Friday 4 March on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos held the satellite launch hostage, warning that OneWeb had two days to provide “comprehensive legally binding” guarantees that the satellites would not be used for military purposes.

He said: “If by 21:30 on March 4 we do not receive confirmation, the rocket will be removed from the launchpad and the satellites will be sent to the assembly and test building.”

According to Russian news agency TASS, Mr Rogozin added that the OneWeb contract had already been paid in full and Russia would refuse to return those funds.

He said: “We received all the money for it for the manufacture of launch vehicles, upper-stages and for the necessary launch services.

“This money, due to force majeure circumstances that have arisen as a result of the aggressive policy of the West and the sanctions that are applied against Russia, this money will remain in Russia.”

OneWeb is only a few rocket launches away from completing its goal of having a network of 648 satellites in space.

Currently, it has more than 400 satellites in orbit, all launched on Soyuz rockets.

Russia’s demands will be difficult for OneWeb to meet, as the UK Government owns a controlling stake in the company after it saved the firm from bankruptcy in 2020.

Chris Lee, the former chief scientist at the UK Space Agency, said this was a “difficult situation” for OneWeb.

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He said: “If they’re taking a business decision, I’m uncomfortable unless they explain that to the UK taxpayer who was part of their bailout.

“I would like them to explain their position, because to some extent we’re shareholders.”

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