UK space firm confirms launch after Putin held satellites hostage

Europe showing ‘interest’ in OneWeb says David Morris

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OneWeb, which several experts have tipped could one day be adapted to replace the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system, is set to launch more into space for the first time. This step forward comes after Russian space agency Roscomos refused to launch a batch of 36 of its satellites. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin held the OneWeb satellite launch hostage back in March, warning that the company, which the UK Government bought a stake in back in 2020 as it scrambled to replace Galileo, had only two days to provide “comprehensive legally binding” guarantees that the satellites would not be used for military purposes. 

OneWeb then decided to call off the scheduled launch from Baikonur, and in the process cut off its ties with Roscosmos following the demands made by Mr Rogozin. 

The firm is still only a few rocket launches away from completing its goal of having a network of 648 satellites in space, which are used to beam signals in 3G, 5G, LTE and Wi-Fi for high-speed internet access to all corners of the globe. Now, it is set for a historic launch in India, which the company revealed in its latest announcement will be its 14th.

It is set to be performed on October 23 with the Indian Space Research Organisation, OneWeb has revealed, and it comes after the firm announced last month that 36 of its satellites of had arrived at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC- SHAR) in advance of a planned launch from Sriharikota, India.

Following the launch, OneWeb will have launched 70 percent of its planned Gen 1 low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation. While this serves a different function to the EU’s Galileo, which Britain left after Brexit, industry figures have said OneWeb could one day be adapted to carry out the same function. 

Currently, OneWeb has more than 400 satellites in orbit, all launched on Soyuz rocket, meaning it is only a few rocket launches away from completing its end target, which was pushed back by Russia.

One additional launch is also set to take place this year as the firm continues to near its target, with three more launches aimed for early next year to complete the constellation.

Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO, said: “OneWeb’s dedication to industry collaboration has allowed us to successfully navigate the everchanging global environment and prepare for yet another milestone launch.

“We are proud of our ability to adapt and remain on track to deliver global connectivity in the hardest to reach places. With many thanks to our top-of-the line partners ISRO and NSIL, as well as our shareholder Bharti Global for their continued stewardship, we were able to facilitate this upcoming pioneering launch in Sriharikota, India.”

OneWeb had originally planned to complete some of its remaining launches with SpaceX. OneWeb said Elon Musk’s company would add to its 428-strong constellation of satellites already in low-Earth orbit and help it deploy its full fleet. 

Mr Masterson said back in March: “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.”

This is despite OneWeb’s satellites and Mr Musk’s Starlink systems, which he has been providing Ukriane with amid the war, carrying out similar functions, which could imply that the two firms might have been opposing.

However OneWeb’s satellites can be launched on a new rocket for the first time, having previously only been blasted into orbit by Russia’s Soyuz rocket. 

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