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SpaceX to launch 40 satellites for OneWeb rival on Thursday

OneWeb satellite in orbit.jpg

SpaceX is due to launch 40 satellites for its rival, OneWeb, tomorrow – the first time UK-based company has used Elon Musk’s launch services.

SpaceX will use a Falcon 9 rocket in the biggest launch yet for OneWeb, which has previously relied on Russian and, more recently, Indian services.

The launch – the 15th in OneWeb’s history so far – is scheduled for 17:27 ET or 22:27 GMT/UT at the earliest from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

OneWeb plans a total of 648 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide a global wholesale broadband service, in competition with SpaceX’s own Starlink and a number of other planned satellite operations.

Previous launches have had a maximum of 36 satellites at a time, including October’s launch from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre in the Bay of Bengal.

OneWeb’s previous relationship with Russia’s Roscosmos launch company was ended when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

After this week’s operation, if it is successful, OneWeb plans three further launches, two by SpaceX from Florida and one more from India, running into the first few months of 2023.

OneWeb is “on track to deliver global coverage in 2023”, said the company, which is in the process of merging with French company Eutelsat.

A successful launch tomorrow means OneWeb will have achieved 80% of its target for its first generation of satellites. Plans for a second generation are unclear, with the imminent Eutelsat merger.

OneWeb said that tomorrow’s launch “will enable the company to significantly expand service and initiate additional connectivity solutions soon for partners across the US, Europe and much of the Middle East and Asia, representing all points north of the 35th parallel”.

That line of latitude, 35°N, runs along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, meaning service will cover all of Europe, most of the US, and large parts of Asia including Japan.

“The expansion of the OneWeb fleet will also enable coverage between the South Pole and the 35th parallel south, opening up connectivity services in southern Australia, South Africa and parts of South America,” said the company.

“OneWeb’s connectivity solutions are already active in Alaska, Canada, the UK, Greenland and wider Arctic area to provide internet connectivity to unserved and underserved rural and remote communities and businesses.”

The launch will be streamed live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.