Russia’s Loss of Rocket Launch Business Becomes SpaceX’s Gain

OneWeb, a British satellite internet company that has canceled rocket launches with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, is turning to SpaceX to send broadband satellites into space.

The alliance, announced Monday by OneWeb, is unusual because SpaceX is currently OneWeb’s main rival in the market for broadcasting high-speed Internet from orbit to users on the ground. But a messy dispute with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the company’s former launch provider, prompted OneWeb to partner with SpaceX. The move also underscores the growing isolation of the Russian aerospace industry from partners in the West following Moscow’s start of war with its smaller neighbor.

The new agreement with SpaceX would allow OneWeb to build its constellation of 648 orbiting satellites and bundle the internet under a new timeline, Neil Masterson, OneWeb’s CEO, said in a statement.

“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision of the limitless potential of space,” he said.

OneWeb didn’t say how many launches it has purchased from SpaceX, which rocket the company will use or when it now plans to complete its satellite constellation. SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which costs about $62 million per launch, is the most active launch vehicle. In addition to the agreement with SpaceX, OneWeb is in talks with other launch providers, Ruth Pritchard-Kelly, a senior regulatory advisor at OneWeb, said in an interview.

The earliest SpaceX launch with OneWeb satellites “would be this summer, but we don’t have a date,” said Ms. Pritchard-Kelly.

OneWeb’s internet business operates in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but the company will no longer be able to achieve its goal of providing full global service by August 2022. Starlink, SpaceX’s competing internet constellation that relies on thousands of additional satellites at a lower price tag, is already available as a trial to some consumers and has shipped to Ukraine in recent weeks.


March 21, 2022, 6:23 PM ET

OneWeb has launched 428 satellites — 66 percent of its constellation design — into orbit since 2019, each time using Soyuz, the Russian workhorse rocket that has been operating since the days of the Cold War space race.

In February, three days before OneWeb’s planned satellite launch on a Russian Soyuz rocket from a Russian spaceport in Kazakhstan, Roscosmos director general Dmitry Rogozin demanded that OneWeb cut ties with the British government, which has invested $500 million in the 2020 investment. company had invested to help it out of bankruptcy. Mr. Rogozin’s ultimatum followed a barrage of Western sanctions against Russia for the invasion.

OneWeb instead canceled all six planned Soyuz launches and abandoned its goal of completing its satellite constellation by August. Neither Britain nor any country in the European Union has an available rocket capable of launching the satellites into orbit. A director of OneWeb said at the time that the company was considering missiles in the United States, India and Japan for its launches.

War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments

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Signs of a stalemate amid stalled conversations. After nearly a month of fighting, the war seems to have reached a stalemate. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for renewed peace talks with Russia despite little sign of progress after four days of negotiations last week.

OneWeb officials said they did not know the fate of the 36 satellites placed aboard the Soyuz rocket, whose mission was canceled last month. “They’ve been taken out of the case,” Ms. Pritchard-Kelly said of the satellites, referring to the grenade protecting a missile’s payload, “and I personally don’t know if they’re still in Kazakhstan or not.”

OneWeb is in talks with Arianespace, the French rocket company that brokered OneWeb’s Soyuz launches, about retrieving the satellites and securing a potential refund for the canceled Soyuz missions, Ms Pritchard-Kelly said.

“Nothing has been destroyed; all we’ve done is waste time,” she said.

mr. Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency, said Monday on Twitter that OneWeb was “doomed”, reiterating previous claims that not launching on the Soyuz would bankrupt the company again. He suggested that SpaceX could not successfully deploy OneWeb’s satellites, but did not explain why it lacked the capability.

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