OneWeb launch increasingly unlikely
(02 Mar 2022) A Soyuz-2.1b rocket with a Fregat booster and OneWeb communications satellites was installed at the Baikonur spaceport, Russia's State Space Corporation Roskosmos reported – but it is increasingly unlikely the launch will take place. Roskosmos reportedly is refusing to go ahead with the launch unless OneWeb meets the state agency's demands.
Roskosmos is demanding the U.K. government sells its stake in OneWeb and the company guarantees that the satellites will not be used for military purposes.
OneWeb was rescued from bankruptcy in 2020, with the U.K. government and Indian telecommunications conglomerate Bharti Global taking equity stakes to finance the company's network.
U.K. Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement that there is "no negotiation" with Roskosmos about OneWeb and that the government "is not selling its share."
"We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps," Kwarteng said.
In turn, Roskosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin responded to Kwarteng by saying he would give the U.K. two days to think about its decision, and implied that OneWeb will not be able to complete its satellite network without Roskosmos' help. He added that the undisclosed sum of money paid by OneWeb for the launch, which had already been transferred in full, would remain in Russia regardless of the outcome.
Also, British politicians criticised their government for allowing the launch to go ahead.
Currently, the OneWeb constellation comprises 394 satellites. All of them were orbited by Russian Soyuz rockets. Seven launches of OneWeb communications satellites were scheduled for 2022.
[The satellites can certainly be launched by other rockets (including, but not limited to, India's PSLV and GSLV) but this will likely delay the roll-out of the OneWeb network and affect their business plan. – Ed.]
Reference: New Scientist, CBS, Tass