The board of OneWeb has decided to suspend all launches from the site (which is actually located in Kazakhstan) it has announced. The decision was taken in response to an apparent ultimatum for the UK government to dispose of its stake in the company and for the company to guarantee that armed forces wouldn’t use the satellite data.
According to the BBC, the demands were made by the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dimitry Rogozin. They were in response to western sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
Thirty-six satellites had been planned to launch this week on a Soyuz rocket and it is now unclear what will happen to them.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s Business & Energy Secretary, has tweeted on the UK Government’s support for the decision.
“In light of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we are reviewing our participation in all further projects involving Russian collaboration”.
The BBC reports that OneWeb will now be working with its launch partner – France’s Arianespace – to find alternative rocket rides. The situation is complicated further, Space News notes, by the fact that it uses thrusters imported from Fakel, a Russian propulsion company.
The UK Government supports OneWeb’s decision
In light of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we are reviewing our participation in all further projects involving Russian collaboration https://t.co/dQapXfzsuf
— Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) March 3, 2022
As well as the UK government, the company is partly owned by Bharti, Eutelsat and South Korea’s Hanwha.
For example, in December 2021, it launched 36 satellites from Baikonur. The launch took the number of satellites in the OneWeb constellation from 358 to 394 representing over 60% of the planned 648 satellite constellation.
The fleet is intended to deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity to the northern hemisphere (the 50th parallel and above) and OneWeb had expected to start its broadband services before the end of this year.
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OneWeb signs southern hemisphere broadband deals