As it works through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, OneWeb announced its new launch schedule with Arianespace today, September 21, 2020. The company plans to start launching again in December of this year, occurring once a month through the end of 2022, with “commercial services” available by the end of 2021 for regions above 50 degrees north latitude, including the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic seas, and Canada.
The “amended” OneWeb Arianespace launch agreement covers 16 launches placing anywhere from 34 to 36 satellites into orbit per launch, with the December flight boosting OneWeb’s fleet from its pre-bankruptcy 74 satellites up to 110 spacecraft.
One caveat exists in today’s announcement – the amended agreement “remains subject to confirmation and consummation of OneWeb’s restructuring plan” as it works through bankruptcy proceedings with the United Kingdom government and Bharti Global as the new owners.
Driving the rush to provide satellite broadband services in the northern regions is the lack of affordable broadband in rural areas of Canada and the United States. Rapidly establishing availability in Alaska and Canada is likely a priority for OneWeb as it positions itself to compete with SpaceX Starlink and Telesat to offer services.
SpaceX Starlink has under half of 1400+ broadband satellites in orbit for its first-generation commercial constellation and is currently conducting beta testing in the Northern United States. The thirteenth Starlink launch is expected to take place in another week or two with the full constellation and global service likely available at the end of 2021 while Telesat should be announcing a hardware manufacturer in the next 90 days if it intends to start launching spacecraft for its 192 satellite constellation by 2023.