After having to cancel launches aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, British satellite company OneWeb has reached a settlement agreement with Arianespace that could see a resumption of the suspended launches.
Arianespace announced on Wednesday that it was “supporting OneWeb on its upcoming launches,” but did not disclose the terms of the agreement. OneWeb had been sending its internet satellites to orbit as part of a former agreement with Arianespace, which used Russia’s Soyuz rockets to launch 428 of OneWeb’s planned 648 broadband satellites. But the company’s agreement with the Russian space agency quickly deteriorated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing OneWeb to cancel its launches.
OneWeb sought new partners, signing contracts with rival company SpaceX and India’s space agency ISRO for the six remaining launches required to send its first generation satellites to orbit later this year. As part of the recent settlement agreement, Arianespace will support OneWeb’s two launches with ISRO, as well as future launches. “Based on their unique heritage, OneWeb and Arianespace are determined to examine future opportunities together,” Arianespace wrote in a statement.
Similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb is building a satellite constellation in low Earth orbit that’s designed to provide internet connectivity across the world by the end of 2023. The company was making good headway, but then Russia decided to invade Ukraine; following Western sanctions, Roscosmos refused to launch OneWeb’s satellites in March unless the company agreed to a list of demands, including that the British government divest its stake in the company. London-based OneWeb refused, and Roscosmos has stubbornly held onto the company’s satellites ever since. As a result, OneWeb lost $229 million this year due to the canceled Soyuz launches, and also due to the 36 satellites left in a storage facility in Baiknour, Kazakhstan.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has taken a toll on the country’s partnerships in the space industry. Several companies and government agencies have opted out of their agreements with the Russian space agency, in addition to Roscosmos retaliating against international sanctions imposed on Russia. The European Space Agency was forced to forge new partnerships after relying on Russia’s Soyuz rockets for the past few years. In August, Northrop Grumman partnered with Firefly Aersospace to build a new first stage for Northrop’s Antares rocket, and also a medium-lift booster; the collaboration is meant to eliminate Northrop’s reliance on Russian rocket engines. Roscosmos also halted cooperation with Europe on Soyuz rocket launches from French Guiana and withdrew its 87 employees from the launch site.
Russia is quickly finding itself without space industry allies, while its former partners are struggling to fill the gaps left behind by the absence of Russian rockets and rocket engines. As a result, we’re seeing new partnerships form as the space industry finds new ways to evolve.
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