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After row with Russia over war in Ukraine, OneWeb partners with SpaceX to launch Internet satellites

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster with OneWeb satellites is removed from a launchpad after the launch was cancelled at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan March 4, 2022
A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster with OneWeb satellites is removed from a launchpad after the launch was cancelled at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan March 4, 2022   -   Copyright  Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS
By Natalie Huet  with Reuters

British company OneWeb is partnering with Elon Musk's SpaceX to send its Internet-beaming satellites into orbit after Russia refused to let it use its rockets to launch them.

The companies are direct competitors in the broadband satellite industry, and the terms of this rather unusual deal were not disclosed.

OneWeb was forced to call off its scheduled March 4 launch of 36 satellites on one of Russia's Soyuz rockets after Russia’s space agency Roscosmos demanded a guarantee that the technology would not be used for military purposes and that the British government sold its stake in the company.

The UK rejected the calls.

The launch cancellation came amid heightened tensions between Russia and NATO governments, including Britain, over economic sanctions imposed against Moscow by the West in response to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Universal broadband using satellites

OneWeb was rescued from bankruptcy by the British government and Indian telecoms giant Bharti Global in 2020, when the UK was seeking a post-Brexit alternative to the EU's satellite navigation system Galileo.

The British satellite firm plans to offer universal broadband through a network that will ultimately consist of 650 satellites.

It expects its first launch with SpaceX later this year will add to its constellation of 428 satellites already in low-Earth orbit.

"We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space," OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said in a statement.

"With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish building out our full fleet of satellites and deliver robust, fast, secure connectivity around the globe".

SpaceX’s Starlink has already put some 1,500 satellites in operation, including in war-torn Ukraine, providing internet access to regions underserved or hard to reach for other services.