OneWeb launches 36 satellites to join its global broadband constellation on orbit

In a return to active launch, constellation satellite operator OneWeb has sent 36 new satellites to join its existing spacecraft on orbit. This is the third large batch of OneWeb satellites to be delivered, after an initial launch of six in 2019, and then a second and third launch of 34 satellites each in February and March of this year. The company then ran into financial difficulties that led to its filing for bankruptcy protection in March, before emerging from said bankruptcy in July thanks to a deal funded in part by the U.K. government, and in part by Bharti Global. In short, it’s been a year for OneWeb.

Today’s launch took off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, and used a Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket to make the trip. This is the first-ever commercial launch from Vostochny (prior commercial launches handled by Roscosmos have used the Baikonur Cosmodrome), and it meant that OneWeb could launch 36 satellites instead of 34, because of its position relative to OneWeb’s target orbit.

OneWeb is building a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites that will provide high-bandwidth connectivity for use in Earth-based networks. The company aims to ultimately have 648 satellites on orbit, and intends to speed up the pace of its launches in order to achieve its target by 2022, which will enable it to offer global network coverage to its customers.

Getting ramped and operational is key to OneWeb being able to generate revenue from its offering. The company is also competing with major, well-capitalized LEO networks being created by both SpaceX and Amazon — but we heard from Amazon’s Dave Limp just this past week at TC Sessions: Space that there should be plenty of room for multiple winners in the LEO broadband market, as there’s no shortage of demand for high-quality connectivity at a global scale.

While OneWeb’s arrangement with Bharti and the U.K. has helped it emerge from bankruptcy, Bharti founder and chairman Sunil Mittal noted earlier this week that the company will likely need to raise a total of $2.5 billion to finish its constellation — half of which is provided by the U.K./Bharti consortium.