OneWeb's satellites ahead of launch. Photo:

OneWeb — a company hoping to bring broadband to millions of underserved users around the world — launched 34 of its internet-beaming satellites to orbit on Thursday.

Why it matters: A number of companies, including SpaceX and Amazon, are also planning to launch their own broadband constellations, making this a growing but competitive part of the space industry.

Details: This launch marks the beginning of a series of launches this year designed to build out OneWeb's satellite constellation.

  • The company plans to provide partial coverage by the end of the year with full global services starting in 2021.
  • In total, the company plans to have 648 satellites as part of the initial constellation.
  • OneWeb launched six satellites to orbit last year.

Between the lines: OneWeb is also focused on making sure that it's a responsible user of space.

  • The company is planning to affix its satellite with grappling technology that will allow a satellite servicing craft to either deorbit or help fix any spacecraft that is no longer functional in orbit, preventing it from becoming space junk that might threaten other spacecraft.

The intrigue: It's still not clear exactly how much of a market there will be for these kinds of space-based internet services.

  • "We don't know how big the market is for consumer broadband, but it may not be much bigger than we have today," technology consultant Tim Farrar told Axios in November.
  • Astronomers are also worried about what these satellites will mean for the future of their profession, with thousands of internet-beaming spacecraft launching to orbit in the coming years that could streak through their images, obscuring faint objects in need of study like asteroids.

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