Russia nixed a deal with OneWeb to launch its Internet satellites because the UK government is a stakeholder in the company. Now OneWeb signed a deal with SpaceX to launch the next batch of Internet satellites.
The UK government was part of a group of investors that bought OneWeb out of bankruptcy in a $500 million deal. Russia’s Roscomos demanded that the UK sell its stake before it would launch any more satellites due to the international fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
OneWeb had originally planned to launch on a Virgin Galactic-owned spacecraft called LauncherOne. However, that deal fell through when it went bankrupt. Virgin Galactic was originally a stakeholder in OneWeb before the deal that bought it out of bankruptcy.
As a provider of satellite Internet service, OneWeb became a rival of SpaceX’s Starlink. In April 2021, OneWeb claimed that a Starlink satellite nearly collided with a OneWeb satellite that was being launched, which SpaceX disputed.
SpaceX, at least, doesn’t seem to have any hard feelings, though – at least, not enough to turn down a deal with OneWeb as a possible part of another “in your face” to Russia. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin very publicly traded barbs when Musk sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine and had SpaceX engineers prioritize work on improved cybersecurity for them.
Rogozin also said that Russia wouldn’t sell the United States any more rocket engines and suggested that they could go to space on broomsticks – a barb reminiscent of suggestions that the United States could send astronauts to the International Space Station on trampolines during past diplomatic tension between Russia and the United States. SpaceX fortunately manufactures its own rocket engines.
Neither did OneWeb mention any past spats with SpaceX during their announcement of the deal.
“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space,” OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said in a statement.
The deal with OneWeb will bring its constellation up to 428 satellites. When completed, the constellation will have up to 648 satellites. OneWeb didn’t say how many launches it bought from SpaceX.
By contrast, SpaceX already has about 2,000 satellites in orbit and frequently launches more on reusable Falcon 9 rockets. This has led to complaints about “space junk” causing hazards for assets owned by other organizations. Rivals like ViaSat and Amazon’s Project Kuiper have filed regulatory challenges over SpaceX’s license to launch the Starlink satellites to CEO Elon Musk’s occasional frustration.
SpaceX already has a long waiting list of more than 500,000 possible customers who put down a deposit for a Starlink terminal. It’s been working on getting the cost of manufacturing terminals down and already sells them at a loss.
OneWeb specializes in Carrier and Enterprise plans for businesses interested in reselling its satellite Internet services or connecting their businesses.
Both companies market their services as low-latency, high-speed satellite Internet services that work well in remote areas and places that have been hit by disasters that could disrupt other forms of communication.