SpaceX to Launch Rival OneWeb’s Broadband Satellites

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.