The London-based telecommunications startup OneWeb has launched its first 34 satellites into orbit on a single Soyuz rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
OneWeb is planning to build its own mega-constellation of satellites in the sky to deliver broadband internet globally. In 2019, it launched six spacecraft to prove the technology but in 2020, it plans to send big batches of satellites on an almost monthly basis.
The telecoms firm plans to begin full operation of the network by the end of 2021. OneWeb is currently in competition with several other companies aiming to provide a similar kind of service, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink constellation.
Earlier this year, the aerospace manufacturer SpaceX launched 60 additional Starlink satellites into orbit via a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch was conducted from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The new batch of satellites will join the over 100 satellites already deployed by SpaceX in 2019 and is expected to be followed by 23 more launches by the end of 2020, to expand the company’s Starlink constellation to over 1,500 satellites.
Meanwhile, Amazon chief executive officer (CEO) Jeff Bezos has proposed a system he calls Kuiper.
However, OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said his start-up has nothing to fear from these “100lb gorillas”. Steckel said: “I think they’re going to do great; we’re going to do great. There’s room for three or four of us. The world is a big place and the appetite for data is insatiable. This won’t be a game of ‘winner takes all’.”
The full network will comprise 648 satellites, 60 of which will be in-orbit spares. The aggressive rollout of satellites was made possible by high volume manufacturing at a factory set up in Florida by OneWeb and Airbus, who are partners on the the project.
The factory is capable of producing two spacecraft on a daily basis.
Steckel mentioned: “We consider ourselves as an international project, but we navigate in a difficult world where not everybody gets along. And our sense is that the UK’s flag and approach allows us to have dialogue with partners that we otherwise might not have the ability to do.”