Because of the Russian-led war in Ukraine, OneWeb can no longer use Soyuz launchers. The company therefore chose to work with SpaceX. In a press release published on March 21, 2022, the British company announces that it has entered into a partnership with SpaceX to transport its future satellites into low orbit, around the Earth.
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According to the OneWeb press release, “the first take-off with SpaceX is scheduled for 2022 and will be added to OneWeb’s in-orbit constellation, which currently has 428 satellites, or 66% of the target”. The outbreak of war made it impossible to continue this cooperation: at the end of February, Russia ends Soyuz take-offs from Kourou. This partnership allowed OneWeb to place its satellites in low orbit. The new deal found with SpaceX puts an end to a period of uncertainty for OneWeb.
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Indeed, being a direct competitor of Starlink, SpaceX could have refused to cooperate. OneWeb and Starlink do offer similar services. The British company wishes to offer “access to the Internet from space, thanks to a vast fleet of satellites”. The least we can say is it is an unexpected connection. The seriousness of the situation prompted the two companies to collaborate. With this partnership, SpaceX will participate in the growth of a competing network, with its Falcon 9 rockets.
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One might think this was a strategic mistake on the part of the American company, but if you look at the problem the other way around, SpaceX may be a winner in this collaboration. Indeed, OneWeb would certainly have ended up finding another partner and therefore succeeded in sending its satellites into orbit.
By agreeing to send the British satellites, SpaceX takes advantage of charging for launches. In fact, the two companies do not address exactly the same markets. Starlink targets individuals, while OneWeb offers a B2B offer. Incidentally, Elon Musk believes that there is room “for everyone” in orbit.
This means that in the short term, the two companies should not step on each other. Same thing for the orbit, the two constellations do not evolve at the same distance from the Earth. Starlink satellites are located 550 kilometers from Earth while those of OneWeb are 1,200 kilometers altitude.
This new partnership with SpaceX also puts an end to a diplomatic conflict between Russia and the United Kingdom. Indeed, Putin’s government was opposed to OneWeb covering Russia, on the grounds that the British government, which took (partial) control of the company, could use it for spying purposes.