Tenth launch boosts OneWeb halfway to its target

OneWeb's constellation grows to its halfway mark of 322 after its tenth launch, while Amazon picks a fight at the FCC with Elon Musk's Starlink.

Pádraig Belton, Contributor, Light Reading

September 15, 2021

4 Min Read
Tenth launch boosts OneWeb halfway to its target

With a launch of 34 satellites from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome, OneWeb has boosted its in-orbit constellation to a merry band of 322 – taking them halfway there.

Each satellite, the size of a mini-refrigerator and weighing 150 kilograms, was released from a dispenser on a Russian-made Fregat upper stage in groups of two or four over a period of four hours – after which each spacecraft transmitted back signals to mission control confirming their healthy arrival in space.

The launch, by France's Arianespace, keeps it on pace with its goals to start a service this year in portions of the northern hemisphere and deliver its services globally by 2022.

Figure 1: Halfway up the stairs: The latest launch from the cosmodrome means half of OneWeb's planned constellation is now in orbit. (Source: Roscosmos, Space-Center-Vostochny and TsENKi) Halfway up the stairs: The latest launch from the cosmodrome means half of OneWeb's planned constellation is now in orbit.
(Source: Roscosmos, Space-Center-Vostochny and TsENKi)

In total, the UK satellite internet operator plans to place 648 satellites into low earth orbit. This means in its tenth launch OneWeb is halfway to its target, after only resuming its satellite launch programme in December. It has nine more launches in its contract with Arianespace, of which the next will take place on October 14 in Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's far east. For Arianespace, the launch also is cause for celebration, now giving it more than 1,000 satellites successfully deployed.

Made in the USA

OneWeb's satellites are made in a factory just outside the gate of Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, by a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus. Each satellite is fitted with a xenon-fueled ion thruster, permitting it to move into its proper orbital plane. OneWeb's satellites fly at higher altitudes than Starlink's, which means it can reach global internet coverage with a significantly smaller constellation. Starlink aims to launch nearly 30,000 satellites.

The space race between the two companies for satellite broadband meanwhile notches up a peg, with OneWeb's larger rival SpaceX launching 51 Starlink broadband satellites from California a day before.

SpaceX's satellites formed the first batch of a second stage of their network's deployment, targeting a new orbital trajectory to service northern Canada and parts of northern Europe. In August, SpaceX said it had shipped 100,000 terminals to users, with 90,000 active users of its beta service. Amazon, which plans a similar satellite network called Kuiper with more than 3,000 satellites, has pushed back on SpaceX's quick timeline for its broadband satellite launches.

In a filing to the FCC, it submitted a laundry list of Elon Musk's past difficulties with regulators, seeking to depict Starlink's owner as a serial rule-breaker.

Amazon hasn't yet revealed production plans or launched any satellites for its own Kuiper system.


OneWeb signed an insurance policy worth more than $1 billion earlier this month with brokers Marsh to cover this and the nine following launches for its broadband constellation, at less than half market rate for a Soyuz launch.

Previous cover was assembled by the broker Willis, and expired on August 1, with OneWeb's 2020 bankruptcy and subsequent rescue delaying the schedule past that point.

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Insurance prices for launches have shot up in recent years after a string of failures, though Arianespace's Soyuz launches for OneWeb have so far encountered no problems. Space insurance has been a loss-making industry in each of the three years from 2018 to 2020, amid a shift away from the larger, geostationary satellites that had previously accounted for the majority of its revenues.

For Neil Masterson's company, which recently topped up its rescue with a $300 million equity investment from South Korea's Hanwha Systems, reaching the halfway mark suggests its current momentum is soaring sky high.

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Pádraig Belton, contributing editor special to Light Reading

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Pádraig Belton

Contributor, Light Reading

Contributor, Light Reading

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