OneWeb confirms successful launch and contact with 36 new satellites

Controversial satellite operator OneWeb completes its ‘Five to 50’ mission to cover regions north of 50 degrees latitude, including UK, Canada, Alaska and Arctic region

Just months after being rescued from bankruptcy, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications company OneWeb is in ramp-up mode in establishing a constellation of craft to bring broadband to hard-to-reach places around the globe.

The company has confirmed the launch of the latest 36 satellites in its fleet by Arianespace from the Vostochny Cosmodrom. Lift-off occurred on 1 July at 13:48 BST, and OneWeb’s satellites separated from the rocket and were dispensed in nine batches over a period of 3 hours 52 minutes, with signal acquisition on all satellites confirmed.

OneWeb developed what it claimed is “cutting-edge” satellite technology from its bases in the UK and the US. Emulating Elon Musk’s Starlink project, it aims to implement a network of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals to provide an affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications service, connected to internet of things (IoT) devices, and making a pathway for mass adoption of 5G services.

The new launch brings the company’s total in-orbit constellation to 254 craft. The latest launch takes OneWeb’s in-orbit constellation to 254 satellites, or 40% of OneWeb’s planned fleet of 648 LEO satellites that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. OneWeb intends to make global service available in 2022.

The launch also marks the completion of the company’s Five to 50 mission, which supplies broadband connectivity from the North Pole to the 50th parallel. With the launch, OneWeb said that it is ready to deliver connectivity across the UK, Canada, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland and the Arctic Region. Service demonstrations will begin this summer in several key locations – including Alaska and Canada – as OneWeb prepares for commercial service in the next six months.

Offering enterprise-grade connectivity services, OneWeb has already announced distribution partnerships across several industries and businesses including with BT – announced in a deal on 28 June whereby the UK telco signed a memorandum of understanding to explore rural satellite connectivity solutions – as well as with Rock Network, AST Group, PDI, Alaska Communications and others.

OneWeb launches 36 satellites in its fleet by Arianespace from the Vostochny Cosmodrom

The company added that it will continue to engage with telecommunications providers, ISPs, and governments worldwide to offer its low-latency, high-speed connectivity services, and sees growing demand for new solutions to connect the hardest-to-reach places.

“This is a truly historic moment for OneWeb, the culmination of months of positive momentum in our Five to 50 programme, increased investment from our global partners and the rapid onboarding of new customers,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson.

“We are incredibly excited to start delivering high-speed, low-latency connectivity first to the UK and the Arctic region and to see our network scale over the coming months as we continue building to global service. Thanks to all our incredible partners who have been with us on this journey and are instrumental to making OneWeb’s mission a success.”

The launch and the partnerships with communications providers mark a significant step for the firm, which formed in 2012 with the aim of addressing the needs of hard-to-reach places. OneWeb has always claimed that its network has a unique capability to serve hard-to-reach communities and  provide improved capacity, mobile resilience, backhaul and coverage, including Fixed Wireless Access, in challenging geographic locations.

However, the company’s evolution was a struggle and after failing to find private investment, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in the US in March 2020. It was rescued by a $500m investment from both the UK government and Bharti Global, and returned to business in December 2020 with a 36 satellite payload.

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