London-based startup OneWeb has launched an additional 34 new satellites to orbit to increase its mega-constellation to 74 satellites.
OneWeb launched a Soyuz rocket carrying 34 satellites from Baikonur, Kazakhstan,into orbit to add up to its broadband internet mega-constellation. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the firm pushed through with the mission.
The Soyuz rocket left the Kazakh spaceport right on schedule at 22:06 local time on Saturday. The additional satellites increases the existing 40 spacecraft that were lofted in two previous launches to a total of 74.
The complete satellite network will comprise of approximately 650 satellites to achieve an orbital configuration. The first customers of the internet service will be from northern latitudes, before eventually being offered globally.
OneWeb decided to proceed with the launch following rumors that the firm may consider seeking bankruptcy protection and a Bloomber report on Thursday indicated that the company was examining different options to address a possible cash crunch.
However, a OneWeb spokesperson declined to comment on those rumors and said that the company was “focused 100% on launch”.
The startup is currently in competition with several firms in providing the same kind of service.
SpaceX chief executive officer (CEO) Elon Musk is developing his Starlink constellation which will comprise of thousands of connected satellites while Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has proposed a system he calls Kuiper.
Building such a system is expensive and OneWeb has raised £2.6 billion so far to fund its activities. The firm currently has a huge contracted launch campaign with European rocket operator Arianespace.
Most of the Soyuz launches will be conducted from Baikonur, but several missions are also expected to be launched from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far east.
OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said: “In these unprecedented times following the global outbreak of Covid-19, people around the world find themselves trying to continue their lives and work online. We see the need for OneWeb, greater now more than ever before.”