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SpaceX to Launch Rival OneWeb’s Broadband Satellites

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 21, 2022
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Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

OneWeb announced this morning that it will resume launches of its broadband satellite constellation with SpaceX, which is deploying its rival Starlink broadband satellite network. The agreement comes after OneWeb terminated a contract to continue launching on Soyuz boosters in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space. With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish building out our full fleet of satellites and deliver robust, fast, secure connectivity around the globe,” OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said in a press release.

OneWeb said the first launch is “anticipated” to occur later this year. The company did not clarify whether the launch will be on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or the larger Falcon Heavy. OneWeb said terms of the launch agreement are confidential.

“Demand for OneWeb’s broadband connectivity services has continued to grow across telecommunications providers, aviation and maritime markets, and governments worldwide. OneWeb has activated service with its network at the 50th parallel and above, and early partners are initiating service,” the company said in its announcement.

OneWeb used 13 Soyuz launches to orbit 428 of 648 satellites that will make up the company’s initial satellite constellation. A 14th Soyuz launch with 36 satellites aboard had been scheduled for March 5 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was canceled after Russia demanded that OneWeb give an assurance that the satellites not be used for military purposes and that the British government divest its shares in the satellite company. Both demands were refused.

OneWeb had contracted and paid for a total of 19 Soyuz launches to deploy its initial satellite constellation. The launches from Baikonur, Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia, and Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana were handled on a commercial basis by a partnership of Arianespace of Europe and Russia’s Starstem.

OneWeb’s options for other launchers were limited. Arianespace, United Launch Alliance of the United States and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan are all in the process of retiring existing boosters in favor of new rockets that have yet to fly. India’s launch cadence was reduced from about six annually to only two per year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.

SpaceX has deployed more than 2,000 Starlink broadband satellites as part of an initial constellation of 4more than 4,200 spacecraft. The Federal Communications Commission has given approval for SpaceX to deploy nearly 12,000 satellites.

A SpaceX official said on Monday at the Satellite 2022 conference that the company is building nearly 8 Starlink satellites per day at its manufacturing facility in Redmond, Wash.

6 responses to “SpaceX to Launch Rival OneWeb’s Broadband Satellites”

  1. Cameron says:

    SpaceX has been quite open in the past about being willing to launch competitor satellites, even to the point of claiming they could do so faster and more economically.
    Of course, one can readily understand the hesitancy for competing companies to do so.

    • duheagle says:

      Iridium didn’t have a problem using SpaceX to launch its Next constellation. AST is already on-board to launch its direct-to-cell-phones constellation. There will, doubtless, be others. The main holdout was Greg Wyler when he still ran OneWeb – before he flew it into the ground. He deliberately signed a lot of launch contracts with much more expensive launch providers than SpaceX out of personal animus at Elon Musk. He later canceled the contract he signed with Virgin Orbit, resulting in litigation. By deliberately passing on the cheapest launches available, Wyler, had OneWeb been a public company, would likely have been successfully sued by shareholders for breach of fiduciary duty. In any event, he contrived a number of other ways to crash OneWeb. Now, he’s gone and the current management don’t seem to have a problem launching with SpaceX now that the Russians have stiffed them.

  2. Robert G. Oler says:

    good show well done

  3. ThomasLMatula says:

    Good to see that OneWeb finally made the right choice for launching their satellites.

  4. Stanistani says:

    Well, now that Roscosmos held their customer’s satellites hostage and kept the payment for (not) launching them, that’s largely the end of their commercial launch business, even if sanctions are lifted in the near future. SpaceX swallowing up a larger share of the market.

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      I expect that OneWeb and other firms will be allowed to file claims against the Russian assets being seized by the West for damages. Of course the Ukrainians should have first call on those assets.

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