Today, February 6, OneWeb successfully launched 34 satellites, its first large batch towards an operational constellation of 648 satellites providing global communications coverage. All satellites have been successfully released and are undergoing three day in-orbit testing.
Launch 2 took place at 4:42 PM ET from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan onboard a Soyuz launch vehicle. The launch was the 27th commercial Soyuz flight conducted by Arianespace and its Russian affiliate. Once in space, the 34 satellites were distributed into different locations in groups of 2 and 4 in nine separate maneuvers by the Fregat upper stage over the course of nearly four hours after liftoff.
Today’s launch was originally scheduled for December but ended up delayed due to additional engineering checks conducted on the first group of satellites produced at the OneWeb Satellite factory in Florida. OneWeb’s first six satellites were built by Thales and launched in February 2019.
OneWeb expects to conduct Launch 3 in late March from Baikonur with further launches taking place “more or less” on a monthly basis, said a OneWeb executive, through the end of 2021. Each batch will be 32 or 34 satellites, depending on the Soyuz launch location taking place in northern Russia (32) or Kazakhstan (34), with the lone exception being a group of 30 satellites onboard the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 rocket launched from French Guyana.
Initial customer trials for OneWeb services are expected to take place later this year with full global coverage becoming available sometime before the end of 2021. Not all 648 satellites need to be in orbit before commercial service availability since the final count includes in-orbit spares added to the constellation.
OneWeb executives touted their service as the “world’s only global communications provider” in 2021. SpaceX apparently won’t be able to offer coverage over oceans in its current system design; intersatellite crosslinks will be necessary since there’s no place to do a “ground bounce” relay in the middle of the seven seas.
Several OneWeb “launch parties” were held today with festivities taking place in London and Washington D.C. OneWeb founder and executive chairman Greg Wyler attended the Washington D.C. launch party along with Chief Financial Officer Tom Whayne and a number of other DC-based executives.