British company OneWeb has resumed its plans of building an internet constellation in low Earth orbit despite suffering a frustrating setback earlier this year.
After having to cancel its launches aboard Russia’s Soyuz rocket, the British company launched 36 of its internet satellites on Saturday using India’s heaviest rocket. The Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) GSLV Mark III rocket took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India at 2:37 p.m. ET. The launch marked the first commercial payload for the 143-foot-tall (43.5 meter) rocket, according to India’s Economic Times.
All 36 satellites are operational, bringing OneWeb’s total number of satellites to 462 out of its planned 648 satellite fleet, OneWeb announced on Sunday. The company is hoping to complete the full constellation by mid-2023. “[Saturday’s] launch is a significant milestone for OneWeb,” Sunil Bharti Mittal, executive chairman of OneWeb, said in a statement. “This new phase of our launch program from India brings us a step closer to not only enhancing our global coverage but also delivering connectivity in India and South Asia, particularly to the communities who need it most.”
OneWeb had to halt the launch of its internet satellites in March after terminating its contract with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos. The company had been using Russia’s Soyuz rocket to launch its satellites, but that relationship quickly deteriorated following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In retaliation against the Western sanctions imposed against Russia, Roscosmos refused to launch OneWeb’s satellites unless the company agreed to a list of demands. OneWeb declined, prompting Russia to hold on the company’s 36 satellites and keep them at a storage facility in Baiknour, Kazakhstan.
As a result, OneWeb was left scrambling to find alternative rides to low Earth orbit. The company signed contracts with its internet constellation rival SpaceX, as well as India’s space agency ISRO, for the six remaining launches required for its first generation satellites.
Like SpaceX and its Starlink system, 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’s recent fallout with Roscosmos delivered a major blow to its plans, with OneWeb losing $229 million due to the canceled Soyuz launches, as well as the 36 satellites that are being held by Russia. But OneWeb is seemingly back on track, with plans to send another batch of 36 satellites to orbit in January 2023.