OneWeb plans January 2020 launch of 30 satellites

Max Blenkin

Adding to the growing constellations of small satellites in low-Earth orbit, UK-based space telecommunications company OneWeb has planned its first launch of 30 satellites for January.

OneWeb plans January 2020 launch of 30 satellites
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OneWeb plans an initial constellation of 650 satellites but the long-term plan is for around 2,000 satellites.

Like StarLink, which plans a constellation of some 12,000 satellites, OneWeb will provide lower cost internet broadband services and internet of things (IoT) connectivity.

In February, OneWeb launched its first six satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket through European launch provider Arianespace.

That launch was delayed for more than six months, largely to allow for additional satellite testing.

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“We are targeting our next launch for mid-to-late January and remain on track for monthly launches thereafter and to begin service in the Arctic in late 2020 and global coverage in 2021,” the company told SpaceNews.

“We are taking the utmost care to prepare for launch and therefore are taking a few extra weeks to conduct additional tests on the satellites which will be shipped in December for launch.”

OneWeb said it will launch at least 30 satellites with each future Soyuz mission.

Although the February launch was on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana, future launches will be from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, avoiding scheduling conflicts with upcoming Arianespace launches.

OneWeb is planning a a Soyuz launch every three weeks. OneWeb chief executive Adrian Steckel stressed the need for speed in a panel discussion last month.

“It does us no good to put up 35 satellites and wait six months and then put up another 35. We need to get these things up as quickly as possible,” he said.

Steckel sees launch prices as continuing to fall over the next two-10 years.

In addition to the 20 planned Soyuz launches, OneWeb also plans to launch 30 satellites on the maiden flight of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 in the second half of next year.

Four years ago, OneWeb contracted for 39 Virgin Orbit LauncherOne missions but cancelled all but four in 2018. Virgin has sued, claiming OneWeb still owed US$46.32 million of a US$70 million termination fee.

LauncherOne said Virgin has been paid more than US$48 million for future launches it won’t have to provide. It also said the US$6 million cost of a LauncherOne mission is double or triple current market prices.

The case is still winding its way through the US court system.

LauncherOne is planning its first commercial mission for next month. This is a two stage rocket that actually launches from an aircraft at high altitude.

OneWeb and its biggest investor Softbank, is also in litigation with satellite operator Intelsat following a failed merger. Intelsat has claimed breach of contract, fraud and conspiracy to steal secret information.

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