If I could go a decade or two without having headlines from the rest of the world intrude upon the infrastructure space again, it’d be really nice. But with the pandemic perhaps waning, now it’s war. Russia is moving to stop OneWeb’s latest launch of LEO satellites in response to the sanctions levied against it.
We had OneWeb’s Eric GillenWater here in January for an interesting talk about the company’s plans to blanket the earth with connectivity via a 648-satellite constellation. Friday is supposed to be the launch date for 36 of them from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian-built Soyuz rocket operated by France’s Arianspace SA. They already have 428 in orbit, and have been looking forward to bring their services to market in the quarters ahead.
The constellation offers hope for big bandwidth to a wide variety of harder-to-reach destinations and the company is positioning itself as integral piece of the broader communications infrastructure in partnership with fiber and 5G and the network operators themselves. It’s one of the ambitious attempts going on to finally realize the decades-old dream of massive LEO satellite connectivity, with SpaceX’s Starlink being another approach aimed more directly at consumers.
But with the chaos raging in Ukraine and the international backlash of sanctions against Russia, it looks increasingly like it won’t happen. Roscosmos’s Dmitry Rogozin says it won’t happen unless the UK government sells its stake in OneWeb and offers a guarantee that the satellites won’t be used for ‘military purposes’ by 9:30pm Moscow time today. It seems highly unlikely that a resolution will be reached of course.
I’m sure that the ballistics guys can find another window at some point, and other launches have been from French Guiana instead anyway. But the situation is obviously quite dynamic and not in OneWeb’s favor in the short term. Unless some resolution is magically found to the conflict itself, their plans could be a pawn in a bigger game.
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