HOUSTON (KIAH) — The race to get satellites into outer space continues, as a competitor to Space X once again makes its presence known. This morning, OneWeb successfully launched 36 more spacecraft aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, lifting off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Eastern Russia.
The deployment of OneWeb’s satellite broadband constellation program has now passed the halfway mark of a project, which started with test launches back in February of 2019. Thursday’s launch is the 11th in a series of flights to deploy OneWeb’s initial constellation of 648 satellites. And the 36 satellites launched today now join the 322 satellites already in orbit.
It’s all about high speed broadband service. Greg Wyler, American businessman and founder of OneWeb, wants to provide high-speed satellite broadband with a large contingency of small satellites in low Earth orbit. While this may sound similar to SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, it is different.
OneWeb sees its primary customer base as business and government users. Satellite internet services are seen as a way to bring high-speed connectivity to regions that cannot easily be served by broadband on land, especially locations that are rural or remote or where the infrastructure may not even exist. And, by placing satellites in lower orbits, this reduces problems as signals do not have as far to travel.
While the first 648 spacecraft will make up its initial constellation, OneWeb has committed to building at least 900 satellites. Each OneWeb satellite has a mass of 147 kilograms and an expected design life of at least seven years. The additional units will serve as spares and replacements for any that might fail or reach the end of their operational lives.
OneWeb partnered with Airbus Defence and Space to manufacture the satellites, at a facility near Cape Canaveral Florida. This makes it easier to produce hundreds more satellites that will be needed over the lifetime of the constellation.