Weeks after Moscow forced the 11th-hour cancellation of a rocket launch for British satellite venture OneWeb from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the company said on Monday it has contracted with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to send its satellites into orbit. Terms of the deal with California-based SpaceX, a direct competitor of OneWeb in the burgeoning broadband satellite industry, were not disclosed.
Earlier this month, OneWeb called off the scheduled March 4 launch of 36 satellites from Baikonur and suspended ties with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos because of last-minute demands imposed on the company by Moscow, including a guarantee that OneWeb’s technology would not be used for military purposes.
The OneWeb launch scrub came amid heightened tensions between Russia and NATO governments, including Britain, over economic sanctions imposed against Moscow by the West in response to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
The British government, which holds a stake in OneWeb, also said it was reviewing its participation in further projects with Russia in light of the Ukraine crisis.
The British satellite firm expects its first launch with SpaceX later this year to add to its constellation of 428 satellites already in low-Earth orbit.
“With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish building out our full fleet of satellites,” OneWeb Chief Executive Officer Neil Masterson said.
OneWeb, which plans to offer universal broadband through a network that will ultimately consist of 650 satellites, was rescued from bankruptcy by the British government and Indian telecoms giant Bharti Global in 2020. Eutelsat Communications and SoftBank Group are among other investors in the firm.
SpaceX’s Starlink, one of several ventures in the fast-growing satellite broadband business, including Amazon subsidiary Project Kuiper, has put some 1,500 satellites in operation, providing internet access to regions underserved or hard to reach for other services.
© Thomson Reuters 2022