Mar 23, 2022 - Economy

OneWeb partners with rival SpaceX after Russia partnership collapses

 A OneWeb satellite in Newquay, England, in August 2021.

A OneWeb satellite in Newquay, England, in August 2021. Photo: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images

U.K.-based satellite broadband provider OneWeb announced this week it will partner with SpaceX, one of its competitors, to continue placing its satellites in orbit after the company's launch partnership with Russia collapsed.

Why it matters: The new partnership shows how SpaceX continues to undermine the Russian space agency's grip on rocket launches. It also highlights how Russia is becoming increasingly isolated from its Western space partners because of its invasion of Ukraine.

  • OneWeb suspended its future satellite launches from Russia's spaceport in Kazakhstan after Roscosmos, the country's space agency, gave the company ultimatums right before a planned launch.
  • Roscosmos, after rolling a Soyuz rocket carrying dozens of OneWeb's satellites onto a launch pad, demanded the U.K. government sell its stake in the company and OneWeb promise its "satellites will not be used for military purposes."
  • The space agency said it could not work with a company partly owned by the U.K. because of "Great Britain’s hostile attitude towards Russia," referring to U.K. economic and political sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

What's happening: OneWeb said its first launch with SpaceX is set for later this year.

  • The company did not say how many satellites SpaceX would launch for it, keeping the terms of the agreement confidential.

By the numbers: OneWeb has deployed 428 satellites — roughly 66% of its planned satellite constellation — which will provide internet broadband services around the world.

  • SpaceX has at least 1,500 operational Starlink broadband satellites, according to statistics kept by astrophysicist and spaceflight analyst Jonathan McDowell. It lost dozens of satellites to a solar storm last month.

What they're saying: "We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space," OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said in a statement.

  • "With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish building out our full fleet of satellites and deliver robust, fast, secure connectivity around the globe," he added.

The big picture: Russia's space agency also canceled future rocket launches at Europe's spaceport in French Guiana in protest over the sanctions, forcing the European Space Agency to search for alternative launch services for four planned satellite launches.

  • ESA also suspended its first-ever Mars rover mission that is a joint effort with Roscosmos and was set to launch in 2022.
  • SpaceX's Starlink satellites have been providing internet services to Ukraine since last month, after Russia's invasion cut internet access to parts of the country.

Go deeper: Moscow's Ukraine invasion further frays U.S.-Russia space relations

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