British company OneWeb and its largest internet satellite competitor SpaceX have gone from enemies to friends. Well, sort of. OneWeb, in the wake of a canceled deal with Russia, was forced to source new launch providers—leading them to SpaceX and a rather unlikely agreement.
The launch is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, December 6 at 5:37 p.m. ET from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, with 40 OneWeb satellites tucked inside a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It’s an unlikely cargo, as SpaceX is currently building its own internet satellite constellation: Starlink.
The original plan was for Russia to launch OneWeb’s satellites with a Soyuz rocket, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine strained its relationship with the British company. In retaliation against the Western sanctions imposed against Russia, Russian space agency Roscosmos refused to launch OneWeb’s satellites unless the company agreed to a list of unreasonable demands.
OneWeb declined, prompting Russia to hold on to the company’s 36 satellites and keep them at a storage facility in Baiknour, Kazakhstan. With its satellites held hostage, and its pre-payments to the Russian space agency gone, OneWeb reported a loss of $229 million.
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Finding alternatives to the Soyuz rocket wasn’t easy, forcing OneWeb to turn to SpaceX, it’s biggest rival. The company signed contracts with SpaceX, and also India’s space agency, for the six remaining launches required for its first generation satellites. The first of these launches, with the help of the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) GSLV Mark III rocket, took place in October.
Both SpaceX and OneWeb are building internet satellite constellations in low Earth orbit to deliver connectivity across the world, with SpaceX way ahead of its competition. It definitely helps that the company can use its own rockets to launch Starlink satellites to orbit, an enviable position as far as other satellite companies are concerned. That said, OneWeb has already managed to send 464 internet satellites to low Earth orbit, out of an expected 648.
OneWeb even joked about its newly established frenemy status with SpaceX on Twitter, showing a video of the company finally following SpaceX on the platform. Throughout all its adversities in the past year, the British company has persisted and still manages to have a sense of humor about it.