OneWeb liftoff Dec 18 (Source: Roscosmos TsENKI Arianespace)

OneWeb restarts launch operations, puts next batch of satellite into orbit

Today, December 18, 2020, satellite broadband provider OneWeb resumed launch operations, putting 36 satellites into orbit and restarting its launch campaign after clearing bankruptcy.

The flight took place at 7:26 am ET from Russia’s launch complex at the Vostochny Cosmodrome using a Soyuz vehicle and was OneWeb’s first launch from the facility. OneWeb’s two previous launches took place from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Future OneWeb flights will be distributed between Vostochny, Baikonur, and the Arianespace launch complex in Kourou, French Guyana.

“It’s inspiring to be part of a fast-returning organization refocused on our mission of bringing connectivity to everyone, everywhere,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson. “Each launch moves us closer to our goal of building this much needed global, secure, trusted, enterprise-grade broadband network, powered from space. We look forward to offering our commercial services to global users.”

Prior to going through bankruptcy in March 2020, OneWeb put 74 satellite into orbit. Today’s launch marks the start of a monthly cadence through 20202 to build a production constellation of 648 satellites in orbit and the first launch since emerging from bankruptcy last month.

Commercial connectivity services are expect to start in the UK, northern Europe, Alaska, and Arctic in late 2021, expanding to global services in 2022.  OneWeb needs to raise an additional $1.25 billion to complete the constellation and start commercial operation. The UK government and Bharti put up $500 million each this year to bring the company out of bankruptcy, becoming controlling partners in the process.

OneWeb will initially deliver 200 Mbps downstream speeds and 50 Mbps upstream, with the ability to go to 400 Mbps/100 Mbps with various software and network configuration upgrades.  Former CEO Greg Wyle suggested the system may be able to support gigabit end-user speeds with the appropriate hardware and adjustments.

While it is tempting to compare SpaceX and OneWeb, the two companies have entirely different business models.  SpaceX is determined to own the customer as much as possible from end-to-end, going so far as to produce its own consumer end-user hardware at considerable cost. The company has launch a bit over half of its initial 1400 satellite constellation and is currently conducting beta testing in the Northern U.S. and Canada, expecting to expand its beta in late January/early February.

OneWeb will deliver services as a wholesaler, working with an ecosystem of existing satellite equipment manufacturers and resellers to provide services throughout the world.  It has also secured regulatory approval in more countries around the world, giving it a key advantage in turning up services once it places a satellite network into orbit.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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