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OneWeb’s in-orbit constellation reaches 582 satellites

SpaceX deployed 40 more satellites for OneWeb March 9 in its third and final dedicated mission for the British broadband operator, which is now just one launch away from having enough spacecraft to provide global services.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellites lifted off at 2:13 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

OneWeb said it has made contact with each satellite after all of them had successfully separated from the rocket in low Earth orbit (LEO) about 90 minutes after lift-off.

The Falcon 9’s reusable first stage successfully returned to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s nearby Landing Zone 1.

SpaceX has previously used the booster for 12 other missions, including seven for Starlink, its own LEO broadband constellation.

Going global
OneWeb’s latest launch will give the company 582 of the 588 satellites it needs in LEO to provide global coverage once the 40 new satellites reach final orbital destinations over the coming months via onboard propulsion.

After launching initial commercial services limited to the upper parts of the northern hemisphere in 2021, the operator’s connectivity network is still only available to enterprise and government customers in Alaska, Canada, the United Kingdom, Greenland and the wider Arctic area.

Satellites launched late last year for expanding services into the southern hemisphere, and densifying coverage elsewhere, have yet to reach their final orbital destinations.

An additional 36 satellites are due to launch this month from India on a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 3 rocket operated by New Space India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of India’s space agency.

That launch stands to leave OneWeb with 618 satellites in LEO, and the 30 it does not need for global coverage would serve as in-orbit spares.

The operator is authorized to deploy 648 satellites in total for this constellation, and SpaceX is also due to launch an undefined number of spare OneWeb satellites on a Falcon 9 shared with other operators by late summer.

Dedicated Falcon 9 rockets have been used to launch two other batches of 40 satellites for OneWeb, one in December and another in January.

NSIL deployed 36 satellites for OneWeb in October from India with a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 3 rocket, or LVM3, in its first and so far only mission for the company.

OneWeb turned to SpaceX and NSIL last year after scrapping its Soyuz launch contract with Arianespace following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The operator had once hoped to complete its constellation by the end of 2022 but now expects global coverage to be fully operational by January 2024.

OneWeb’s latest successful launch also provides a boost for Eutelsat, the French geostationary satellite operator seeking regulatory permission to buy the company to fuel its multi-orbit growth strategy. Space News

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