Soyuz rocket successfully launches 34 more OneWeb satellites

by | Mar 25, 2020 | Rockets, Spacecraft | 0 comments

Soyuz rocket successfully launches 34 more OneWeb satellites
IMAGE: OneWeb’s Launch #3 mission patch. The mission name commemorates the 55th anniversary of the first human spacewalk, made by Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (1934 – 2019). CREDIT: OneWeb

Up first, a Soyuz 2.1b with a Fregat upper stage took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday 21 MAR 2020 1706:58 GMT (1:06:58 p.m. EDT; 10:06:58 p.m. Baikonur time).

With the help of Roscosmos providing the facilities and the launch vehicle, Arianespace providing the commercial launch services, and Sweden’s RUAG Space providing the multiple satellite dispenser, OneWeb of Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, USA successfully placed 34 more of their broadband communications satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) on Saturday night local time. That bring to 74 the total number of OneWeb satellites in orbit, with the goal of completing its initial constellation of 650 satellites by 2021.

The Soyuz rocket used for this launch is a far more capable distant cousin to the old Soviet R-7 ICBM, but at liftoff, the rocket’s 32 engines once again blazed an impressive trail into the night sky … much as it did NOT do when Soviet Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov hitched a ride to space back in March of 1965, for THAT flight took place in the early afternoon.  It was during that trip that Leonov became the first human being to exit his capsule while in orbit, connected only by a tether to his ship. His adventure in trying to get back INSIDE the Soyuz capsule is well known though: once he exited the capsule, his space suit began to slowly inflate in the vacuum of space, to the point that initially he was unable to re-enter the capsule. He was only able to do so after deliberately venting his suit to space in order to deflate enough to fit through the doorway.

OneWeb’s goal of completing its own project is also in some trouble, however. Like many companies today, OneWeb is looking at large financial hurdles going forward. To date they’ve received over US$3.4 billion to finance their operations, much of it from companies like SoftBank, Qualcomm, and Airbus, to name a few. But these companies are also being hit hard by poor payouts on investments, the recent severe market fluctuations related to the world-wide COVID-19 epidemic, and the various supply and travel problems also associated with the pandemic. (More on this later in the show.)

While OneWeb has almost 2,000 satellites in various stages of design, planning and production, and several launches planned for just the upcoming months, many of those launches are now on an indefinite hold, and speculation is running rampant that this company may end up declaring bankruptcy before it can sell its services to a single customer.


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