OneWeb will resume launches in the fourth quarter

WASHINGTON — OneWeb, the broadband mega-constellation company whose launch plans were disrupted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, expects to resume launches later this year, an executive said June 23.

Speaking at the Fourth Space Sustainability Summit of the Secure World Foundation and the UK Space Agency, Maurizio Vanotti, vice president of space infrastructure development and partnerships at OneWeb, said the new launch agreements with SpaceX and NewSpace India Ltd. ( NSIL) would allow the The company will launch the remaining satellites of its first-generation system by the second quarter of 2023.

“Our plan is to return to the launch pad in the fourth quarter, after the summer, and complete the constellation deployment in the second quarter of next year,” he said. It will take several months after that final launch for the satellites to move into their operational orbits, he added.

“We are going to be up and running with global coverage, 24/7, by the end of next year,” he said.

OneWeb once hoped to have its complete constellation by the end of this year using Soyuz rockets. However, his plans changed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions. OneWeb formally suspended launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome after rejecting conditions imposed by Roscosmos that included no military use of the satellites and divestment of the British government’s stake in the venture.

OneWeb announced a launch deal with SpaceX less than three weeks later, but neither company disclosed details about the deal. In particular, Vanotti said the deal, brokered in less than three days, is for “some Falcon 9 launches.” The companies had previously declined to say how many releases were included in the deal.

OneWeb announced on April 20 that it has signed an agreement with NSIL, the commercial arm of the Indian space agency ISRO, for OneWeb satellite launches. Vanotti confirmed that NSIL will launch those satellites on the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark 3, the most powerful version of the GSLV but one that hasn’t been launched since 2019. He didn’t disclose how many launches that contract includes.

“Considering the geopolitical situation, I would say that we have had an incredible turnaround with great support from both SpaceX and the Indian space agency,” he said.

Commitment to the sustainability of the space

Vanotti appeared on a panel with Julie Zoller, director of global regulatory affairs for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband constellation, where they both emphasized their commitment to space sustainability.

“The sustainability of the space is fundamental to the Kuiper Project. It’s been a priority from day one,” Zoller said, citing the company’s plans to use tight tolerances for satellite orbits and actively deorbit them at the end of their lives as examples.

“We take our responsibility for the space commons very seriously,” Vanotti said, emphasizing the company’s commitment to the reliability of its satellites to ensure they can leave orbit at the end of their lives. The high orbit of the OneWeb satellites means they won’t re-enter in 25 years, as current orbital debris mitigation guidelines recommend, with atmospheric drag alone.

OneWeb has also worked to ensure that its satellites can be pulled out of orbit by other spacecraft should their onboard propulsion fail. However, Zoller said there were no similar plans for Project Kuiper satellites, in part because those satellites are in lower orbits between 590 and 630 kilometers. “We do not use a third party to do active debris removal. We are the active debris remover,” he said, claiming that satellites can go out of orbit within 10 years, even without propulsion.

Both also said they were working on another element of space sustainability, dimming their satellites to limit their interference with astronomy. For Amazon, that includes a test with two satellite prototypes that the company plans to launch later this year on an ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket. Zoller said one of the two satellites will be equipped with a sunshade to prevent sunlight from reflecting off parts of the satellite, similar to the “VisorSat” concept that SpaceX used for some of its Starlink satellites.

“We can compare and contrast the difference between a shielded and an unshielded satellite on our first launch,” he said. “We’re excited to get data on that and figure out what we can do next.”

Vanotti said OneWeb stays in touch with astronomical groups in the United States and the United Kingdom, and in the past year has launched an “active observing campaign” to monitor the brightness of its satellites. Those observations help refine a model of the satellites. “We’re going to use this tool to optimize the design of our future generation of satellites,” he said, “to have less of an impact on dark skies.”

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