A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 40 OneWeb broadband relay satellites into orbit on Thursday, helping the London-based company expand its fleet after the Russian attack.Western sanctions and Russia’s subsequent cancellation of previously planned Soyuz launches.
The Falcon 9 came to life at 5:27 p.m. The 325-pound repeater stations were deployed in three batches beginning approximately one hour after liftoff.
Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 first stage completed its fourth flight with a double sonic boom and a perfect return to land on a concrete pad at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It was the company’s 55th launch so far 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, Massimiliano Ladovaz, OneWeb’s chief technology officer, had nothing but praise for the California rocket builder, saying the two companies are targeting different segments of the data communications market.
“It’s amazing what SpaceX can accomplish in such a short time,” he said. space flight now. “The launch people are really focused on getting the job done. We have very good relationships with SpaceX in general. We’re not competing in the same markets, it’s really about cooperation.”
While SpaceX is launching thousands of Starlink internet satellites, OneWeb plans a fleet of “only” 648 higher-altitude repeater stations. With Thursday’s launch, the constellation grew to 504 satellites, with four more launches planned to complete the fleet: three aboard Falcon 9 and one aboard an Indian GSLV Mark 3 rocket.
Launched into an initial 373-mile-high orbit inclined 87 degrees with respect to the equator, the 40 satellites launched Thursday will use onboard xenon ion thrusters to reach their operating altitude of approximately 745 miles.
OneWeb already served government agencies, businesses, and Internet service providers 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 launch, we’ll be able to cover…all of the United States and up (north) and half of Australia down and South America.”
It has not been easy.
Last March, OneWeb was preparing to launch 36 satellites aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket when the invasion of Ukraine triggered harsh Western sanctions. In retaliation, Russia demanded that OneWeb cut its ties with the British government, which is a part owner of the company.
OneWeb refused andawaiting launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. OneWeb then scrambled to build replacements and booked its next flight on an Indian GSLV which it successfully flew in October. SpaceX’s launch on Thursday was the second since OneWeb and Russia parted ways.
A silver lining to random launch: the team that builds OneWeb satellitesoutside the Kennedy Space Center did not have to see Thursday’s flight on the Internet. For the first time, they were able to see their satellites fly in person.