SpaceX sent 40 OneWeb internet satellites into space after Russian launches were canceled

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 40 OneWeb broadband relay satellites into orbit, helping the London-based company expand its fleet following Russian military action. The occupation of Ukrainewestern sanctions and Russia’s subsequent cancellation of previously planned Soyuz launches.

At 5:27 p.m. EST, Falcon 9 blasted off south from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, launching the OneWeb satellites into their initial polar orbit. The 325-pound relay stations were deployed in batches of three about an hour after takeoff.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center carrying 40 OneWeb internet satellites. Both SpaceX and OneWeb deploy space-based broadband relay satellites, but the companies target different segments of the communications market.

William Harwood/CBS News

Meanwhile, Falcon 9’s first stage completed its fourth flight with a double sonic boom and a perfect return for a landing on the concrete pad at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It was the company’s 55th launch this year, the 188th Falcon 9 flight overall, and the 154th successful booster recovery.

While SpaceX’s fast-growing Starlink system also provides space-based broadband Internet services, OneWeb chief technology officer Massimiliano Ladovaz had nothing but praise for the California rocket maker, saying the two companies are targeting different segments of the data communications market.

“It’s incredible what SpaceX can accomplish in such a short amount of time,” he told Spaceflight Now. “The people that have come out are really focused on getting the job done. In general, we have a very good relationship with SpaceX. We’re not competing in the same markets, it’s really about collaboration.”

While SpaceX is sending thousands of Starlink internet satellites into space, OneWeb plans a fleet of “only” 648 high-altitude relay stations. With Thursday’s launch, the constellation grew to 504 satellites, with four more launches planned to complete the fleet — three on Falcon 9 and one on India’s GSLV Mark 3 rocket.

Launched into an initial orbit of 373 miles, tilted 87 degrees to the equator, the 40 satellites will use onboard xenon ion thrusters to reach an altitude of about 745 miles.

A dramatic long-range tracking camera view of the second stage going into orbit (bottom center) powered by the Falcon 9’s single engine, the first stage restarting three engines (top center) to reverse course and return for landing. Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.


OneWeb already served government agencies, businesses and ISPs in Alaska, Canada and Northern Europe. Thursday’s flight “was very, very important for us because it will allow us to significantly increase the coverage of our service,” Ladovaz said.

“Basically, with this release, we’ll be able to cover the entire United States and up (north) and down Australia and half of South America.”

It has not been easy.

Last March, OneWeb was preparing to launch 36 satellites on a Russian Soyuz rocket when its invasion of Ukraine prompted tough western sanctions. In response, Russia demanded that OneWeb cut ties with the British government, which partially owns the company.

OneWeb refused and Russia confiscated the satellites Awaiting launch at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. OneWeb then scrambled to build replacements and booked its next flight on the Indian GSLV, which flew successfully in October. Thursday’s SpaceX launch was the second since OneWeb and Russia parted ways.

One silver lining to the startup mess: the team that created the OneWeb satellites in a small factory He didn’t have to watch Thursday’s flight from the Kennedy Space Center on the Internet. For the first time, they were able to watch their satellite fly in person.

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