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OneWeb constellation nears 300 satellites after Arianespace launch

TAMPA, Fla. — Arianespace launched its ninth mission for broadband startup OneWeb Aug. 21, expanding its low Earth orbit constellation to 288 satellites.

A total 34 satellites for OneWeb launched on a Soyuz rocket 6:13 p.m. Eastern from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

They separated from the launcher during nine successful sequences, according to Arianespace, in a mission that lasted three hours and 45 minutes.

It marked the first commercial mission Arianespace has performed with French-Russian affiliate Starsem from Kazakhstan in 2021, following four launches this year from Russia’s Vostochny launch site.

The launch was conducted under contract with Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Arianespace scrubbed an initial Aug. 19 launch date after a “non-nominal event during the final automatic sequence.” 

That issue was resolved and a launch was slated for Aug. 20, however, OneWeb requested a 24-hour delay to allow “additional time for mission planning preparation linked to the updated liftoff,” Arianespace tweeted.

The latest OneWeb launch represents Arianespace’s third mission in 23 days with three different launch vehicles.

An Ariane 5 successfully launched the Star One D2 and Eutelsat Quantum communications satellites July 30 from Kourou, French Guiana, marking that rocket’s first flight in nearly a year.

On Aug. 16, a Vega rocket launched the Pléiades Neo 4 imaging satellite from French Guiana.

Arianespace plans to perform 10 more Soyuz launches for OneWeb through 2021 and 2022, enlarging its network to 648 satellites for global coverage.

OneWeb announced Aug. 12 it received a $300 million strategic investment from Hanwha, the South Korean conglomerate, even though the startup had already secured the $2.4 billion it said it needed to fund its initial constellation.

A OneWeb spokesperson confirmed India-based Bharti would remain the U.K-headquartered startup’s “largest shareholder” after the Hanwha transaction, which requires regulatory approvals.

Its latest launch puts the venture on track to start providing global low-latency, high-speed connectivity services in 2022 as it sees growing demand from telcos, ISPs and governments worldiwde, according to OneWeb.

We are seeing huge demand for our services from global customers, and we are incredibly excited about scaling our network ahead of its commercial launch,” OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said in a statement Aug. 22.

“This success is down to our talented team and partners around the world, who continue to work relentlessly every day to deliver OneWeb’s constellation and bring connectivity to those in the hardest to reach places.”

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