Arianespace launches 34 OneWeb internet satellites to orbit

OneWeb’s internet-satellite constellation continues to grow.

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket carrying the 34 satellites of OneWeb’s Launch 9 mission lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Saturday (Aug. 21) at 6:13 p.m. EDT (2213 GMT; 3:13 a.m. Aug. 22 local time at Baikonur) following a two-day delay.

The launch was originally targeted for Thursday (Aug. 19), but that attempt was aborted late in the countdown clock due to “a non-nominal event during the final automatic sequence,” Arianespace representatives wrote in an update that day. 

The issue was soon identified and fixed, and the liftoff was rescheduled for Friday afternoon (Aug. 20). But launch was soon pushed another 24 hours at the request of OneWeb “to allow for additional time for mission planning preparation linked to the updated liftoff,” Arianespace said via Twitter on Friday.

Video: Watch Arianespace’s Soyuz launch 34 new OneWeb satellites
In photos:
OneWeb launches new global satellite internet constellation

A Russian-built Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 34 OneWeb internet satellites into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Aug. 21, 2021 (Aug. 22 local Baikonur time). (Image credit: Space Center “Yuzhny”/Roscosmos)

All 34 spacecraft — which together weigh 12,165 pounds (5,518 kilograms) — are scheduled to separate from the Soyuz by three hours and 45 minutes after launch. They’ll deploy into a near-polar orbit 280 miles (450 kilometers) above Earth, then migrate over the coming weeks to their operational orbit, which features an altitude of 746 miles (1,200 km).

Arianespace and Roscosmos webcast the launch, which lit up the predawn sky over Baikonur, but the live video feed from Arianespace ended shortly after liftoff. Roscosmos updates on Twitter stated that the Soyuz and its Fregat upper stage were performing as expected during the hours-long trip to spacecraft separation.

There are now 288 OneWeb satellites in space, all of them launched by Arianespace over nine different missions. And OneWeb is far from done. The London-based company, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last year, eventually intends to operate about 650 broadband spacecraft in low Earth orbit.

“Central to its purpose, OneWeb seeks to bring connectivity to every unconnected area where fiber cannot reach, and thereby bridge the digital divide,” Arianespace representatives wrote in a description of Saturday’s mission.

“Once deployed, the OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals that are capable of offering 3G, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, providing high-speed access globally — by air, sea and land,” Arianespace added.

If all goes according to plan, OneWeb will begin providing internet service by the end of 2021 to some of Earth’s northern regions, including northern Europe, Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Iceland, according to Arianespace’s mission description. Global coverage will follow as the constellation is built out.

OneWeb faces some competition in the satellite internet business. For example, SpaceX has already launched more than 1,700 satellites for its Starlink broadband constellation, whose service is already in the beta-testing phase. And Amazon plans to launch about 3,200 broadband satellites for its Project Kuiper constellation, though none of those spacecraft have left the ground to date.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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