OneWeb constellation finally takes shape

28th Mar 2023
OneWeb constellation finally takes shape

OneWeb has officially completed the launch of its internet constellation, ending with a blast-off of its last 36 satellites from India. The British company began building its constellation in early 2019, and despite several setbacks from the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, OneWeb hopes to provide internet by the end of the year.

The completion of OneWeb’s constellation is a significant moment for the satellite internet industry, as the company will now compete against SpaceX’s Starlink broadband. Their offerings are different, as OneWeb will not sell its services directly to customers like Starlink, but some competition for government customers will begin to rise between the two. On the other hand, OneWeb has used SpaceX to launch its satellites, so the companies aren’t in deep conflict.

OneWeb constellation final launch

On Sunday, the 26th March, at 9 AM local time, OneWeb launched 36 satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC-SHAR) in Sriharikota, India. It marked the 18th launch for the company, and the third this year, bringing the number of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to 618. The constellation only required 588 satellites, but the additional ones will aid its “resiliency and redundancy”, OneWeb says.

The batch was launched by NewSpace India Limited’s (NSIL) three-stage LVM3 rocket. Sunday’s success marks its sixth flight into space. It launched with a payload of 5,805kgs, and 17 minutes after lift-off, the satellites began deploying into orbit. NSIL is the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The satellites separated from the rocket and were confirmed deployed over a period of one hour and 14 minutes, OneWeb said.

“Today’s launch represents a major step towards closing the digital divide. OneWeb’s global constellation will play a pivotal role in realising this dream,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, the Executive Chairman of OneWeb. “…This is an incredibly exciting time for the satellite connectivity industry, and I am delighted that the UK and India are at the forefront of developments.”

India and OneWeb

Prior to Russia’s broadscale invasion of Ukraine, OneWeb utilised Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for the launch of its satellites. However, shortly after the invasion in 2022, OneWeb suspended its partnership with Russia and sought new launch providers, with ISRO and SpaceX coming to the rescue. With some satellites stolen by Russia in return, the completion of the OneWeb constellation was delayed.

In April 2022, OneWeb signed with India’s NewSpace to launch the last of its satellite constellation. The event on Sunday marked the second OneWeb launch from India. Mittal Continued:

“I am particularly proud that OneWeb has crossed the threshold to be able to provide its global coverage in India, a country whose ambitions in enhancing Space-based connectivity are being driven by New Space India and ISRO. Under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Government of India’s target to significantly expand access to high-speed internet connectivity is vital, and OneWeb is grateful for all the support and is delighted to be playing its part.”

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