OneWeb blasts back into action from Russia’s Far East
OneWeb has blasted back into life with the launch of 36 new satellites, weeks after being rescued from bankruptcy by investors from India and the UK.
The new satellites were launched on time at 12:26 GMT today by French company Arianespace, from Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome close to the Chinese border.
OneWeb already had 74 satellites in orbit — from before the bankruptcy protection — out of an initial planned 648, though OneWeb might move to a higher number to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink and other projects.
The new satellites will be separated from the launcher in nine separate processes around three hours after launch.
The company was originally founded by Airbus to build an internet delivery network from low Earth orbit (LEO), just 1,200km above the surface. But it went into bankruptcy protection and faced sell-off until the UK government stepped in with a $500 million rescue package, backed by a similar investment from India’s Bharti Enterprises, part of the same group that owns the Airtel mobile networks in India and Africa.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder of the Bharti empire, is now executive chairman of OneWeb.He has said that commercial services will start in 2022, though some close to the company have suggested late 2021.
Initial coverage will be in the UK, Alaska, Canada, northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic seas. But OneWeb is essentially global, so it is likely the company will quickly expand to serve Africa, India and other under-served areas.
Russia built the Vostochny cosmodrome ultimately to replace Baikonur, home of the Soviet space industry since the 1950s: that is now on territory leased by Russia from Kazakhstan.