Successful launch for OneWeb’s LEO megaconstellation

British satellite company OneWeb has successfully completed its launch of 34 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The Arianespace operated Soyuz rocket took off last night, successfully deploying the satellites into their polar orbit position.

OneWeb launch
OneWeb has launched 34 LEO satellites. Photo: OneWeb

Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, commented in a press release,

“The successful manufacture, delivery and launch of this batch of 34 satellites is the latest proof point of the OneWeb plan. Importantly, today’s mission also brings us closer to our next step, realizing our ultimate vision of providing access to high speed, reliable internet to everyone, everywhere.

“We are seeing considerable interest from prospective customers and partners. Later this year, we will provide service in the arctic region and 2021 will see OneWeb achieve global coverage, making the digital divide a thing of the past. I’m very proud of our team and partners who continue to collaborate to make our ambitious scale a reality, and also those in Kazakhstan for supporting our vision.”

Although this is the second launch for OneWeb, it’s the first to loft up so many of its satellites. It expects to begin providing service with global coverage in 2021, but is aiming to be the first to provide coverage in the Arctic, hopefully by the end of this year.

Details on the launch

The launch took place at the Soyuz Launch Complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Using a Soyuz 2-1b launcher, the mission took flight at 21:42 UTC yesterday, on the 6th February (02:42 this morning, local time).

The satellites getting ready for deployment. Photo: OneWeb

The Soyuz, operated by Arianespace carried a payload of 5,689kg. This included 34 OneWeb satellites, ready to be placed into a polar orbit at an altitude of 450km. Their own propulsion systems will further elevate them to their position at 1,200km (745 miles) from the Earth. OneWeb declared the mission a success today, February 7th.

Next month will see the launch of a further 34 satellites, populating two more of the 12 planes planned for the OneWeb network. When complete, the network will employ 648 satellites, 60 of which will be ‘spares’, ready to step in in the case of any failures.

The LEO space race

Since the opening of its mass production facility in Florida, OneWeb has been accelerating the building of its fleet of satellites. Now, there are on average two satellites per day rolling off the production line.

However, OneWeb still lags some way behind SpaceX in terms of launches. At the end of January, SpaceX deployed its fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites taking the number in orbit up to 240. The company already has permission to launch up to 12,000 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, but is eyeing as many as 30,000 more for the final constellation. The company is planning up to 24 Starlink missions over the course of 2020.

But OneWeb isn’t worried. CEO Adrian Steckel told the BBC the company fears nothing from these “100lb gorillas”, saying,

“I think they’re going to do great; we’re going to do great. There’s room for three or four of us. The world is a big place and the appetite for data is insatiable. This won’t be a game of ‘winner takes all’.”

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