Science

Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb Internet satellites into orbit

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launched dozens of new Internet satellites on Monday (December 27) to power a growing mega-constellation by service provider OneWeb.

The Russian-made Soyuz rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:10 am EST (1310 GMT). The flight comes just two days after an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket launched NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope into space on Christmas Eve from Kourou, French Guiana and just before the New Year, closing the Arianespace launch manifest for 2021.

It is “a special time of year for a very special flight,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said via video message during a launch webcast. The launch was Arianespace 15, 2021 and the last of the year, he added.

Video: Watch the Soyuz rocket launch OneWeb 12 mission!
In Photos: OneWeb Launches New Global Satellite Internet Constellation

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb Internet satellites into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 27, 2021. (Image credit: OneWeb)

Monday’s launch marked the eighth launch of the year for OneWeb, which now has 394 of its Internet satellites in orbit. If all goes well, the 36 new satellites will deploy into an initial orbit 280 miles (450 kilometers) above Earth approximately 3 hours, 45 minutes after liftoff. They will then head into a final orbit more than 621 miles (1,000 km) above Earth.

London-based OneWeb is building a constellation of 648 satellites to provide high-speed Internet access to customers around the world, especially remote and poorly connected locations. This year, the company reached the 60% mark of its constellation in space and signed a series of distribution agreements with partners in Australia, Canada and Europe for its service network.

“The demand for connectivity is not just on an emotional level, it is almost visceral,” OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson told Via Satellite in an interview this month. “We believe we have this incredible opportunity to bridge this digital divide and help close it.”

OneWeb is not the only company competing for satellite Internet customers.

SpaceX is building its own mega-constellation called Starlink and has launched 1,944 satellites since 2019. That constellation is expected to have at least 4,400 satellites in its initial configuration. Amazon is also developing its own constellation of Internet satellites called the Kuiper, but has yet to launch any satellites.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@ or follow him at @tariqjmalik. Follow us on @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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