Russia Prepares to Launch OneWeb Satellites From its Spaceport of the Future

OneWeb satellites being prepared for launch aboard a Soyuz-2.1b booster from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia is preparing for launch number six from the troubled and little used Vostochny Cosmodrome in the nation’s Far East.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket is set to launch 36 OneWeb satellites on Dec. 18. The new batch of satellites will add to the 74 OneWeb spacecraft previously launched.

OneWeb plans to launch an initial constellation of 648 satellites. The company also received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch an additional 1,280 satellites.

OneWeb is fresh out of bankruptcy after an investment from India-based Bharti Global and the UK government. The company is seeking to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink to provide global satellite broadband services.

It will be the first commercial launch from Russia’s newest spaceport. The flight will be carried by the French company Arianespace, which also handles Soyuz launches from European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Vostochy is intended to reduce Russia’s dependence upon the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is in Kazakhstan. Russia launches from Baikonur under a long term lease.

However, only five launches have been conducted from Vostochny since the maiden flight in April 2016. The spaceport, which is still under construction, has a single launch complex for Soyuz boosters.

Vostochny has been plagued by years of delays, corruption and unpaid workers.