Some people said the OneWeb low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite provider would not get off the ground, but the firm has just announced the successful launch of an additional 34 craft by Arianespace from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The launch follows the successful completion of OneWeb’s Five to 50 mission and highlights the momentum of the business as it prepares to introduce commercial service and focus on scaling to global service.
Formed in 2012 with the aim of addressing the connectivity needs of underserved communities, OneWeb has always claimed that its network has a unique capability to provide improved capacity, mobile resilience, backhaul and coverage, including fixed wireless access, in challenging geographic locations.
The company developed what it claims is “cutting-edge” satellite technology from its bases in the UK and the US, emulating Elon Musk’s Starlink project with a constellation of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals to provide what it says is 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.
But 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 the UK government and Bharti Global – still regarded as doubtful in terms of returns to the UK taxpayer – and returned to business in December 2020 with a 36-satellite payload. OneWeb’s first-generation fleet will comprise 648 satellites that will deliver global high-speed, low-latency connectivity in 2022.
The latest launch brings OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation to 288 satellites. Lift-off took place on 21 August. The satellites separated from the rocket and were dispensed in nine batches over a period of three hours 45 minutes, with signal acquisition on all 34 satellites confirmed.
OneWeb said it remains on track to deliver global service in 2022 and is seeing growing demand from telecommunications providers, internet service providers and governments worldwide to offer its low-latency, high-speed connectivity services to the hardest-to-reach places.
Since the start of 2021, OneWeb has announced distribution partnerships across several industries and businesses, including technology partnerships with BT and Eutelsat and, most recently, with Northwestel in Canada. The latter falls under the auspices of the company’s Five to 50 mission to cover regions north of 50 degrees latitude, including the UK, Canada, Alaska and Arctic region and came at the same time as it revealed it had received a $300m equity investment from South Korean Fortune 500 global technology and manufacturing company Hanwha Systems.
After its recent successful launches, OneWeb is confident that its network will be ready to offer connectivity services from the 50th parallel and latitudes above by the end of 2021.
“Following the successful completion of our Five to 50 mission, we are building on our success and embarking on an ambitious back-to-back launch programme until the end of 2021,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson. “We are seeing huge demand for our services from global customers, and we are incredibly excited about scaling our network ahead of its commercial launch. This success is down to our talented team and partners around the world, who continue to work relentlessly every day to deliver OneWeb’s constellation and bring connectivity to those in the hardest-to-reach places.”
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