London, UK, 30 January 2020 - OneWeb, the global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone everywhere, today confirms its upcoming launch of 34 satellites has been scheduled for Thursday 6 February at 2142 (GMT) / Friday 7 February 0242 (local time) from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
This marks the start of a regular launch campaign during 2020 that will rapidly grow OneWeb’s first phase constellation of 648 satellites and represents one of the largest civilian satellite launch campaigns in history. Each satellite forms an integral part of the high-speed global satellite broadband network and together will activate OneWeb’s first customer demos by the end of 2020 to provide full commercial global services for sectors such as maritime, aviation, government and enterprise in 2021.
In this first OneWeb launch of 2020, thirty-four satellites will be aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle. Arianespace will perform the launch, which will place the satellites into a near polar orbit at an initial altitude of 450 kilometers from where they will rise to their final orbit of 1,200 kilometers and form part of OneWeb’s global communications network. All the satellites are manufactured by OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space.
OneWeb has chosen the theme Space for Everyone for the first launch of its 2020 Launch Program, showing how Space is becoming more relevant to everyday life as an important source of connectivity. In collaboration with governments, investors and distribution partners, OneWeb will bring its customers a new experience of connectivity together with social, educational and sustainability benefits. OneWeb’s vision is to see every school connected and it continues to be committed to tackling the digital divide that exists between the connected and unconnected. Follow #OneWebLaunch on OneWeb social media channels: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.
Launch Partner: Arianespace
Launch Facility: Soyuz Launch Complex, Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
04:42 p.m. Washington, D.C. on February 6, 2020
21h42min. Universal Time (UTC) on February 6, 2020
22h42min. Paris on February 6, 2020
00h42min. Moscow on February 7, 2020
02h42min. Baikonur on February 7, 2020
06h42min. Tokyo on February 7, 2020
Mission Timeline (all times approximate)
- 4 h 30 min. Launch vehicle fuelling begins
- 1 h 35 min. End of fuelling operations
- 5 min. 09 s Key on start
- 5 min. Fregat transfer to onboard power supply
- 40 s Ground-onboard power transfer
- 28 s Lower stage umbilical mast retraction
- 19 s Ignition
- 14 s Preliminary thrust level
OneWeb joins the satellite Internet gold rush this week
“Our style is not confrontational. We're using a different model.”
For the better part of a year, SpaceX has gotten the lion's share of attention when it comes to mega-constellations and satellite Internet. Between May and January, the company launched 240 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit, with more launches coming, and has talked of offering preliminary commercial service later this year.
But it was actually another company, OneWeb, that launched the first six satellites of its mega-constellation back in February, 2019. Initial tests of those satellites went well, the company said last summer. Now OneWeb is preparing for its second launch of 34 satellites on board a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The launch is scheduled for 4:42pm ET (21:42 UTC) on Thursday, February 6.
On the eve of Thursday's launch, Ars spoke with OneWeb Chief Executive Officer Adrián Steckel about the company's plans and how it will compete with half a dozen other firms looking at providing Internet from space.
After the company's first launch a year ago, Steckel said OneWeb has been happy with the performance of the six satellites, each of which weighs about 150kg. Steckel said OneWeb has made "a bunch of changes" in terms of software to manage the satellites, but only "slight modifications" to the hardware itself, less than 5 percent of the overall design.
One of the big challenges over the last year, he said, has been scaling up. The company initially built 10 satellites and launched six of them. This year, OneWeb plans to do 10 launches of 30 to 36 satellites per flight, so that has required major changes in production and suppliers. "But now we've got the factory up and running," he said of the company's facility just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "We've really been able to take an assembly line approach to satellites."
The company chose to partner with Arianespace and its modified Soyuz launch vehicle for the 2020 launches because, Steckel said, OneWeb needed a provider that could guarantee a high cadence of launches with good success. After completing the initial phase of deployment, comprising a network of 648 satellites, OneWeb in 2021 will consider alternative launch vehicles as it continues to expand its network. Eventually it may fly as many as 5,260 satellites.
"Right now, we’re the largest buyer of launch in the world," Steckel said. "In the future, as we look to our next phase of deployment, we're willing to buy rocket launches from SpaceX, Blue Origin, or whoever."
A different approach
OneWeb has taken a different approach than SpaceX in terms of how it plans to interact with customers on the ground. SpaceX has opted to offer direct-to-consumer services with the intention of selling user terminals to acquire satellite from space and essentially functioning as a new Internet provider. OneWeb plans to partner with existing telecommunications companies, Steckel said.
For example, Steckel said, if you live on a mountaintop in Utah, you won't be able to go to OneWeb's website and order service. Rather, the company plans to partner with existing service providers to expand its networks and increase capacity. So OneWeb's service in rural areas of Utah probably would be sold through a distributor.