OneWeb pulls out of Baikonur after Russia’s space director held its satellites hostage

Over the past few days, the director of Russia’s space agency, Dimitry Rogozin, took to Twitter to make demands before launching OneWeb‘s next group of satellites. Then on March 3, the company decided to pull out entirely of its Baikonur-based Soyuz launches.

OneWeb was expecting to launch its 14th batch of satellites into orbit from Russia’s spaceport in Kazakstan Friday, March 4. However, tensions between the UK and India-backed company with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine make Rogozin make some unprecedented demands before launching the rocket.

First, Rogozin demanded that the UK government sell off its company shares before it would be allowed to launch. These shares came from an investment in 2020 of $500 million to bring the company back from bankruptcy. The UK government stated it had no plan to sell its shares, so Rogozin demanded that OneWeb wouldn’t allow its service for military operations. OneWeb’s response was to pull the plug on launching via Kazakstan.

What does OneWeb do now?

You may be wondering why a UK company is launching on Russian rockets when there are so many commercial options in the west. Actually, OneWeb is purchasing these flights through Arianespace, as the European launch provider uses Russia’s Soyuz rocket as its medium-lift launcher. However, that may no longer be an option either.

Rogozin has pulled all foreign advisors from the United States and Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. This too is all over the sanctions placed due to the invasion of Ukraine. OneWeb has six more launches planned, all from Baikonur to finish its constellation. However, with no more Soyuz launches from Arianespace, OneWeb might have to look elsewhere to finish the job.

OneWeb has options; however, some are less than ideal, and finding time in providers 2022 manifest could be quite problematic at this point. The company had a goal to finish its constellation this year, but that might be out the window if they need to switch launch providers. OneWeb may have to turn to its competitor, SpaceX, as it seems to be the only one capable of adding this many launches into an already busy schedule.

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