Weeks after Moscow forced the 11th-hour cancellation of a rocket
launch for British satellite venture OneWeb from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome
in Kazakhstan, the company said on Monday it has contracted with Elon Musk’s
SpaceX to send its satellites into orbit.

Terms of the deal with California-based SpaceX, a direct
competitor of OneWeb in the burgeoning broadband satellite industry, were not
disclosed.

Earlier this month, OneWeb called off the scheduled March 4 launch
of 36 satellites from Baikonur and suspended ties with Russia’s space agency
Roscosmos because of last-minute demands imposed on the company by Moscow,
including a guarantee that OneWeb’s technology would not be used for military
purposes.

The OneWeb launch scrub came amid heightened tensions between
Russia and NATO governments, including Britain, over economic sanctions imposed
against Moscow by the West in response to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The British government, which holds a stake in OneWeb, also said
it was reviewing its participation in further projects with Russia in light of
the Ukraine crisis.

The British satellite firm expects its first launch with SpaceX
later this year to add to its constellation of 428 satellites already in
low-Earth orbit.

“With these launch plans in place, we’re on track to finish
building out our full fleet of satellites,” OneWeb Chief Executive Officer
Neil Masterson said.

OneWeb, which plans to offer universal broadband through a network
that will ultimately consist of 650 satellites, was rescued from bankruptcy by
the British government and Indian telecoms giant Bharti Global in 2020.
Eutelsat Communications and SoftBank Group Corp are among other investors in
the firm.

SpaceX’s Starlink, one of several ventures in the fast-growing
satellite broadband business, including Amazon.com Inc subsidiary Project
Kuiper, has put some 1,500 satellites in operation, providing internet access
to regions underserved or hard to reach for other services.

 


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2022-03-23

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