Russia: UK must give up OneWeb share before upcoming launch goes ahead

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Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, is making further demands for the upcoming OneWeb launch with a Russian Soyuz rocket. The launch was recently approved, but now a new requirement is imposed: the United Kingdom must give up its shares in OneWeb.

The current requirement makes it increasingly likely that the launch will be in jeopardy, even though OneWeb has not said anything about these developments to date. The Russian news service TASS writes that Roskosmos has indicated that the satellites, already present on the Baykonur Cosmodrome, will remain there until the matter is resolved.

A little earlier on Wednesday there was already an earlier, further requirement† OneWeb must guarantee before 9:30 p.m. local time in Moscow that the satellites to be launched will not be used for military purposes. If that guarantee is not there before the stipulated time, the Soyuz-2.1b launcher will again be removed from the launch pad in Kazakhstan.

TASS writes that Roskosmos director Dmitry Rogozin says his space agency received information in November last year that OneWeb had begun negotiations with a US company, which is also said to be a Pentagon contractor, to provide information and communications services. In addition, Rogozin also points to SpaceX that he believes provided such services to the Ukrainian armed forces. He is probably referring to the Starlink constellation of SpaceX. Rogozin says he has serious doubts about how OneWeb will operate in this situation where the UK government is the largest shareholder.

Rogozin states that the contract for the upcoming launch has been completed and that the payment from OneWeb has already been made in full. That money will not be refunded in the event of a cancellation, he says. “We have already received the money for the manufacture of launchers, upper rocket stages and the necessary launch services. This money will remain in Russia as a result of the force majeure created by the aggressive policies of the West and the sanctions imposed against Russia. applied,” said Rogozin.

Roskosmos indicated on Tuesday that the Baykonur Cosmodrome State Commission had approved. In concrete terms, that meant that the Soyuz-2.1b launcher could be rolled out and installed on the launch pad on Wednesday.

OneWeb went bankrupt in May of 2020 after a failed investment round and was then more or less bailed out through a $1 billion investment from Indian telecom company Bharti Airtel and the British government. To date, the company has raised billions of euros to create a constellation of internet satellites. OneWeb has 428 of its target 648 satellites in orbit as of February.

All OneWeb launches to date have been carried out with Russian Soyuz launchers. Not all of them were launched from Kazakhstan. Also from Kourou in French Guiana, launches have been made by France’s Arianespace with Soyuz rockets to launch OneWeb satellites into low Earth orbit. A few days ago Roskosmos already decided to to end that collaboration

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