• Monday, November 28, 2022


OneWeb suspends Baikonur launches

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster with a Fregat upper stage and satellites of British firm OneWeb is lifted to a launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on March 2, 2022. (Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

GLOBAL satellite communications company OneWeb has announced that its board had voted to suspend all launches from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

With this, OneWeb has joined a growing list of companies snapping or suspending ties with Russia.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has sought guarantees from OneWeb and Europe’s Arianespace that satellites it plans to launch this year will not be used for military purposes.

It also demanded the UK government give up its stake in OneWeb because of what it said was London’s “hostile position on Russia”.

OneWeb satellite
OneWeb satellite

But UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government was not selling its share and on Thursday (3) welcomed the company’s suspension of launches.

The UK Government supports OneWeb’s decision,” he wrote on Twitter.

“In light of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we are reviewing our participation in all further projects involving Russian collaboration.”

Roscosmos had imposed a deadline for 6.30 pm on Friday (4) for OneWeb to provide “exhaustive legally binding guarantees”.

Otherwise, it added, a planned launch of a Soyuz with 36 satellites on Saturday (5) would be cancelled.

OneWeb, backed by India’s Bharti Enterprises, has been working to complete the construction of a constellation of low earth orbit satellites to provide enhanced broadband and other services around the globe.

The company is aiming for its global commercial internet service to be operational by next year, supported by some 650 satellites.

A Soyuz rocket, operated by Arianespace, blasted 24 satellites into space for OneWeb on February 10 from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.

Arianespace has worked with Russia for nearly two decades and is under contract to make 16 Soyuz launches between December 2020 and the end of this year.

On February 26, Russia suspended space launches from French Guiana and withdrew technical personnel in response to EU sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb, which will offer broadband via a constellation of 650 satellites, was rescued from bankruptcy by Britain and Bharti Global in 2020. Eutelsat and SoftBank have also invested.

Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of SpaceX, has donated Starlink satellite internet terminals to Ukraine, where internet connections have been disrupted due to the Russian invasion.

Starlink, like OneWeb, uses small low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide internet access.

(AFP & Reuters)

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