One step closer to high-speed internet for the Arctic | Polarjournal
The launch of the Soyuz-2.1b rocket with 36 OneWeb satellites on board from the Vostochny Cosmodrome took place on December 18, 2020 at 21:26:26 local time. (Photo: Arianespace)

Only at the end of March 2020, OneWeb was facing bankruptcy. At that time, 74 satellites had reached orbit already and 44 ground stations were operational. A few months later rescue showed up. OneWeb was acquired by the British government and the Indian Bharti Group. With fresh capital of 1 billion US dollars, the satellite network is now to be completed. Now things are moving rapidly – on December 18, 36 OneWeb satellites were launched again into orbit.

With great care, the protective cover is mounted over the 36 OneWeb satellites. (Photo: Arianespace)

Already on November 18, the 36 OneWeb satellites had been shipped from the Florida Space Coast to the Vostochny Cosmodrome. In Vostochny, the satellites were mounted onto the carrier and connected to the rocket. Afterwards the composition was driven to the launch pad.

“The Dec. 18 launch on a Soyuz 2.1b rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome is an important milestone for the team as we continue our launch campaign with Arianespace which includes 16 launches with 34-36 satellites per launch. We all recognize the need and value of connectivity and are committed more than ever to supporting communities, businesses and countries where they are digitally underserved. This delivery of satellites for our next launch is another great milestone in OneWeb’s journey and a logistical achievement in these unprecedented times.” OneWeb reports this on its website.

Approximately five hours after launch and orbiting Earth three times, the 36 satellites will be launched in seven stages at an altitude of 450 kilometres. After additional tests, the satellites will be brought to their ‘working altitude’ of 1,200 kilometres. (Photo: Arianespace)

With the four successful launches already completed, the fleet in orbit has been increased to 110 satellites. The first launch was in April 2016, and four out of five launches had been successful. The British company OneWeb plans to create a network of 648 satellites in low orbit. This should enable a fast and reliable Internet connection even in the most remote areas of the world.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is located in the Far east of Russia, just over 100 km east of the border with China. On April 12, 2016, the spaceport was officially opened. However, manned launches to the ISS with Soyuz spacecrafts are not possible from there. Another 16 launches of OneWeb satellites are scheduled to take place from Vostochny. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny)

Each satellite weighs 174.5 kg and has a planned lifetime of five years. After launch, the satellites will be placed in a circular orbit at an altitude of 450 km and with an orbital inclination of 87.4 degrees. After functional tests with their xenon ion propulsion system, they will reach the ultimate orbit at an altitude of 1,200 km.

More launches are scheduled to take place from the Vostochny Cosmodrome until the end of 2022. If the schedule can be met, OneWeb is expected to launch commercial communications services to the UK, Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic from late 2021.

How OneWeb works

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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