Late yesterday, March 24, 2021, OneWeb successfully added 36 more satellites to its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband constellation. The company also is now labeling its initial launch campaign as “Five to 50,” signifying the ability to offer services to 50 degrees and greater latitudes once it has enough satellites in the proper orbits.
“This is the second of our ‘Five to 50’ launch series and represents a key moment in OneWeb’s return,” Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO commented. “The next launch in the series is scheduled for the end of April, as we continue our drive towards commercial service this year. OneWeb is rising to the challenge of our mission to provide connectivity to everyone, everywhere, all the time.”
Liftoff for the Soyuz launch brokered by Arianespace took place at 10:47 ET on March 24 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia. The OneWeb satellites were distributed into orbit in nine batches over a period of nearly four hours, with communication with all satellites confirmed.
The launch brings OneWeb’s total constellation to 146 satellites and was the second since the company emerged from bankruptcy last year. It is also the second launch of a five mission program to enable OneWeb services to reach all regions north of 50 degrees latitude by the middle of 2021, with commercial operations ready to start by the end of the year.
While not explicitly stated in the press release, “Five to 50” would require three more launches – an average of one launch per month – between now and the end of June to meet the goal. Once the “Five to 50” campaign is completed, OneWeb will be able to reach “millions of consumers” in the northern hemisphere, bring services to the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas, and Canada, with global service expected to follow in 2022.
OneWeb is starting to ramp up its sales and marketing efforts in the United States and around the world. The company conducted its first network demonstrations to the U.S. government in March and will be rolling out additional demonstration kits and demo centers in places such as the United Kingdom. – logical given the “Five for 50” push, the UK government investment in the company, and the company’s existing offices there – Alaska, “Maryland and more,” according to a OneWeb press release.
The “Maryland” demo center is likely to be located at or near the Hughes Network Systems headquarters in Germantown, Maryland. Since Hughes already owns and operations satellites and ground station equipment, a minority investor in OneWeb and is producing ground equipment for OneWeb, it would seem to be the most logical location.