Another 34 satellites for OneWeb’s internet network were successfully launched on Saturday on a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, giving the British company a fleet of 288 spacecraft.
The latest batch of OneWeb satellites, manufactured at an assembly line factory on the Space Coast of Florida, took off from Baikonur aboard a Soyuz-2.1b rocket at 6:13:40 p.m. EDT (10:13 p.m. 40 GMT) Saturday.
The four kerosene-powered boosters and the center stage of the Soyuz rocket propelled the site 31 complex launcher in Baikonur with nearly one million pounds of thrust.
Two minutes after takeoff, the Soyuz got rid of its four first-stage boosters to fall into a drop zone north of Baikonur. Nearly five minutes after the start of the mission, the rocket dropped its main stage and ignited a third to continue its climb into orbit. Moments later, the Soyuz released its two-piece payload fairing after ascending above the dense, lower layers of the atmosphere.
The Soyuz third stage shut down as planned more than nine minutes after takeoff and deployed a Russian-made Fregat upper stage to perform a pair of main engine burns in order to reach a predicted polar orbit at 280 miles (450 kilometers) above the Earth.
The Fregat apparently completed these burns as planned, delivering the 34 satellites to the expected altitude.
“Orbit injection looks perfect,” tweeted Massimiliano Ladovaz, CTO of OneWeb.
A Soyuz rocket takes off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with the next group of 34 Florida-built spacecraft for OneWeb’s growing fleet of internet satellites. https://t.co/UlQw0HqjWN pic.twitter.com/IkaqJYt9yG
– Spaceflight now (@SpaceflightNow) August 21, 2021
Arianespace, OneWeb’s launch service provider, has confirmed the deployment of the 34 satellites from a Swedish-made distributor on the Fregat upper stage. The spacecraft, each the size of a mini-fridge, separated from the upper floor into groups of two or four, with final deployment taking place approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes after takeoff.
“Congratulations to all the teams who made this ninth launch dedicated to OneWeb satellites a success,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, in a press release.
Arianespace’s subsidiary, Starsem, manages Soyuz commercial launches from Russian space ports. Glavkosmos, part of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, helps facilitate commercial launch operations on Russian rockets.
The OneWeb satellites, built at a plant in Florida by a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus, were to deploy power-generating solar panels after separating from the rocket. Over the next few months, xenon-powered plasma thrusters will gradually propel the satellites in OneWeb’s operational fleet to an altitude of 1,200 kilometers above Earth.
OneWeb satellites transmit broadband Internet signals to users on the ground, at sea or in the air, providing high-speed, low-latency connectivity to consumers, large businesses and governments. OneWeb competes with SpaceX’s Starlink network, as well as planned Internet constellations from other companies.
SpaceX has launched 1,740 Starlink satellites to date, enough to complete construction of the first of five orbital “shells” planned to complete the array, which could eventually number 12,000 spacecraft.
The OneWeb constellation needs fewer satellites to provide global Internet service. The London-based operator plans to deploy 648 spacecraft until next year, including spare parts.
Soyuz launches for OneWeb can take off from three different space ports. So far, a Soyuz launch for OneWeb has been launched from the Guyanese Space Center in South America, three have departed from Baikonur and five have taken off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East.
OneWeb’s previous launch on July 1 had given the company enough spacecraft to provide internet service to customers north of 50 degrees latitude.
OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in March 2020 after failing to secure sufficient funding to continue building and launching satellites. The reorganized company emerged from bankruptcy last year under the ownership of Bharti Global and the UK government.
OneWeb announced on August 12 a $ 300 million equity investment in Hanwha, a South Korean technology and manufacturing company. The funding brings the total equity investment in OneWeb since November 2020 to $ 2.7 billion, the company said.
Arianespace said it is planning 10 more Soyuz rocket launches from Baikonur, Vostochny and French Guiana to complete the deployment of the initial block of OneWeb satellites. The next launch of OneWeb is scheduled for September from Baikonur.
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