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India’s weekend OneWeb launch successful, but four more to go

OneWeb launch 14.jpg

OneWeb now has 462 satellites in orbit, following the successful launch of 36 new satellites from India at the weekend.

NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) put up the satellites in the early hours of Sunday morning Indian time (pictured), Saturday afternoon and evening US and European time.

OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said at the weekend: “I am delighted that we have been able to resume OneWeb’s launch programme. This launch was made possible thanks to the hard work by our team and our partners at ISRO and NSIL, as well as shareholder Bharti Global.”

NSIL took over after Russia’s war on Ukraine made it impossible to continue OneWeb’s previous launch arrangements in Russia and a Russian enclave in Kazakhstan.

Launch 14 was originally due to be on a Soyuz 2 rocket from Baikonur. Satellites were on top of the rocket, ready for launch on 2 March, but plans were dropped after the invasion and Roscosmos is thought to have taken over the 36 satellites.

Bharti Global, the biggest shareholder in OneWeb, is run by Sunil Bharti Mittal, who also runs Bharti Airtel. Mittal, executive chairman of OneWeb, said: “This new phase of our launch programme from India brings us a step closer to not only enhancing our global coverage but also delivering connectivity in India and south Asia, particularly to the communities who need it most.”

Masterson said: “The spirit of collaboration exemplified by this international effort is at the core of our strategy to scale up our global coverage network. At OneWeb, we remain laser-focused on removing barriers to connectivity, ensuring that we deliver for communities and customers globally.”

OneWeb and NSIL have at least one more launch planned from India, expected to be in February 2023.

Space industry insiders expect SpaceX will be responsible for launches number 15, 16 and 17, from December 2022 onwards with 48 satellites each, from Florida. NSIL will be responsible for launch 18 for the final 36. That will put OneWeb on a total of 642 satellites in orbit, out of its first generation fleet of 648 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

These launches will enable OneWeb to offer global broadband coverage at some time in 2023, a year later than planned.

At the moment it can deliver services north of 50° north latitude, an area that includes Alaska, much of Canada and northern Europe including all of the UK.

However by early 2023 OneWeb is likely to be subsumed into Eutelsat, following a merger deal agreed in July that values OneWeb at $3.4 billion. Eutelsat CEO Eva Berneke is expected to be in charge, as Eutelsat and OneWeb shareholders will each own 50% of the expanded company.