All systems go as OneWeb completes first generation

All systems go as OneWeb completes first generation

OneWeb last launch.jpg

OneWeb now has enough satellites to offer global wholesale coverage of the planet after a successful launch on Sunday.

NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) put up 36 of OneWeb’s first generation satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, executive chairman of OneWeb, said after the launch: “Today’s launch represents a major step towards closing the digital divide. OneWeb’s global constellation will play a pivotal role in realising this dream.”

This is OneWeb’s eighteenth launch, its third this year after two by SpaceX, most recently just two weeks ago.

The company now has 618 satellites in service. The OneWeb constellation design calls for 588 satellites for global coverage and additional satellites are planned for resiliency and redundancy.

However, this may well be OneWeb’s last launch as an independent company, before its absorption into Paris-based Eutelsat. The companies announced the deal last July and observers expect it to be complete by June this year.

Eutelsat has already started planning for a post-merger world, having announced an agreement with Intelsat on 9 March to use OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites in association with Eutelsat’s geostationary (GEO) constellation. The aim is to provide coverage in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific in association with Intelsat.

OneWeb said yesterday: “By the year-end, OneWeb will be ready to roll out global coverage, enhancing its existing connectivity solutions that are already live in regions north of 50-degrees latitude as it brings new areas online by partnering with leading providers.”

In an interview with Capacity two years ago, Mittal said that global coverage should have been available in May or June 2022.

But that plan was derailed by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. OneWeb lost access to Roscosmos’s rockets – and lost 36 satellites that were already on top of a rocket on the launch site as the Russians marched into Ukraine.

That has not only delayed the commercial launch but has also involved the shareholders in OneWeb in additional cost as they had to replace those 36 satellites and book new launched.

The previous generation of OneWeb – which went into chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2020 – had already paid in full for all launches, including those cancelled because of the Russian war.

According to space industry sources, OneWeb still has a further SpaceX launch, in May from the Vandenburg base in California, of the 15 final first-generation satellites, plus one test satellite from the company’s second generation.

That will take OneWeb’s fleet to 633, not quite the 648 planned initially for global coverage. But two satellites failed in orbit and the company now has enough for global coverage.

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