British firm OneWeb will launch another 36 broadband satellites on a Soyuz rocket

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British firm OneWeb will launch another 36 broadband satellites on a Soyuz rocket

British firm OneWeb today launched its first batch of broadband satellites into orbit since surviving bankruptcy –  in a bid to take on SpaceX‘s Starlink network.

Now jointly owned by Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and the UK government, OneWeb launched 36 satellites at 12:26 GMT from Russia on a Soyuz rocket. 

The firm has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to compete with Starlink, as the latest batch brings it up to 110 satellites in orbit compared to 800 from SpaceX. 

They launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia where an Arianespace Soyuz rocket placed the satellites in a near-polar orbit above the Earth. 

This was OneWeb’s third launch in 2020 and the first since surviving bankruptcy and its acquisition by the UK government and Bharti Global.

OneWeb says it hopes to be able to provide satellite broadband to the UK by the end of next year and worldwide by 2022 when it has 650 satellites in orbit. 

The OneWeb satellites were launched on top of a Soyuz 2.1b rocket from the vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia operated by France-based Arianespace

A Russian-built Soyuz 2.1b rocket and Fregat upper stage carried the satellites to a near-polar orbit from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast at 12:26 GMT.

The satellites are built by a subsidiary company called OneWeb Satellites based in Florida – it is a partnership with AirBus. 

They each weigh 325 lbs and are about the size of a dishwasher. They will use ion thrusters to raise their altitude to 745 miles above the Earth after launch.

A total of 19 Soyuz launched have been purchased from Arianespace – a French company – to send the satellites into orbit between now and 2022. 

In June 2015, Roscosmos signed a contract with Arianespace to conduct 21 commercial launches of 672 communication satellites of the British company OneWeb on Soyuz-2 rocket boosters from the Baikonur, Vostochny and Kourou Cosmodromes

A total of 19 Soyuz launched have been purchased from Arianespace – a French company – to send the satellites into orbit between now and 2022 

The satellites are built by a subsidiary company called OneWeb Satellites based in Florida – it is a partnership with AirBus 

OneWeb says it is hiring new staff at a rapid pace, restarting launches, continuing to build its ground station network and pushing ahead with development of its user access terminal ahead of planned operations in 2021.

The first services will be available to customers in the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland and Canada in 2021 and worldwide in 2022.

To achieve that goal they will have to compete a number of launches in the next two years, as the full service requires 648 satellites in orbit – they currently have 110. 

The aim is similar to Starlink, to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband, particularly to areas currently not services well by fixed line connections.

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said while the internet has powered the world through the coronavirus pandemic, the web is not world wide with over three billion without even basic internet access.

‘Megaconstellations of dishwasher-sized satellites can change that by connecting the unconnected, not just in the UK but across the world,’ he added. 

This is the first commercial mission from Vostochny Cosmodrome performed by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate, putting the satellites into a near-polar orbit. 

This use of Russian launch facilities and a France-based company for launch operations led to one British space-CEO calling for more investment in UK Space.

The UK has a ‘significant equity stake’ in OneWeb, said to be £400 million. 

This is the first commercial mission from Vostochny Cosmodrome performed by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate, putting the satellites into a near-polar orbi 

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO at Skyrora, the only firm currently capable of launching satellites into orbit from British soil, called on the UK Government to invest a similar amount of money in launch infrastructure on British soil.  

Levykin says the UK has a heritage of launch capabilities going back to the Black Arrow satellite carriers of the 1960s and a number of private UK firms are carrying that torch on into the 21st century.

‘There is a huge opportunity for the Government to encourage and foster these companies, by investing similar sums to what it spent acquiring its stake in OneWeb in order to develop infrastructure to launch from UK soil,’ he said.

‘Skyrora is the only private company launching from UK soil, and in the future we would hope the Government backs UK-led infrastructure, such as the Skyrora XL rocket.’ 

Betty Bonnardel-Azzarelli, director and co-founder of the Access Space Alliance said it has been a ‘roller-coaster year’ for OneWeb.

A total of 19 Soyuz launched have been purchased from Arianespace – a French company – to send the satellites into orbit between now and 2022

Rocket firm Skyrora – hoping to launch satellites from the UK next year – says the Government should invest more in British launch infrastructure 

‘OneWeb’s project, aimed to disrupt the space industry with its large satellite constellation, was from the very start ground-breaking. It set a precedent that large players, such as SpaceX and Amazon, only followed. 

‘With this latest launch the company continues to send a positive signal to the entire space industry and for the small satellite market in the UK because it shows that there is both demand and support for innovative telecom technologies and potential for improving connectivity around the globe.’

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said in buying a stake in OneWeb was a strategic investment that demonstrated the Government’s commitment to UK space sector.   

The firm has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to compete with Starlink, as the latest batch brings it up to 110 satellites in orbit compared to 800 from SpaceX. 

‘With OneWeb’s latest satellites taking to the skies we come one step closer to connecting people across the globe with fast, UK-backed broadband and just months after British government investment made this possible.

‘The UK can be proud of being at the heart of the latest long-term advances in space technology.’ 

OneWeb has a deal with Arianespace for 19 Soyuz launches – operating from Vostochny, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana – finishing the 650 strong satellite constellation.

‘OneWeb will continue to be headquartered in the UK, bringing new R&D programs, manufacturing opportunities and a global platform with priority spectrum usage rights,’ OneWeb said in a statement.  

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