Arianespace launches 36 OneWeb Internet satellites on the Soyuz rocket


A Soyuz rocket lifted off from Russia today (May 28), carrying a new clutch of OneWeb internet satellites into orbit.

The mission, called ST32, is a joint mission between Arianespace and its partner Starsem. At 1:38 p.m. EDT (5:38 p.m. GMT, or 2:38 a.m. local time on Saturday, May 29), a Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia.

On board the rocket was a stack of 36 OneWeb satellites, bringing the total number launched to 218. With this flight, OneWeb becomes the second largest fleet of satellites currently in orbit, behind SpaceX’s Starlink.

In photos: OneWeb Launches New Global Satellite Internet Constellation

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb Internet satellites as part of the Launch 7 mission from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia on May 28, 2021. (Image credit: Arianespace / Roscosmos)

After takeoff, it will take approximately 3 hours and 51 minutes for the rocket to deploy its payload into a near polar orbit.

From their orbital pole, 450 kilometers above Earth, the satellites will provide internet coverage to traditionally underserved areas north of the 50th parallel, including customers in the UK, northern Europe, Greenland , Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada.

This service is expected to start in June, with possible global coverage in 2022.

Friday’s flight marks the seventh total theft and the fourth since OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in March 2020. After the Chapter 11 filing, the company was acquired by the UK government and Indian telecom, Bhakti Global.

It’s also part of an effort to expand the constellation enough to begin service this year. As part of a “Five to 50” campaign, this flight will help bring the constellation closer to 80% of its capacity, which the company says will allow it to start service this summer.

A stack of 36 OneWeb Internet satellites is seen in launch configuration before takeoff of OneWeb’s Launch 7 mission, scheduled for May 27, 2021. (Image credit: Arianespace)

OneWeb isn’t the only company hoping to connect the world – SpaceX, TelStar, and Amazon all have similar aspirations, although SpaceX is the only other company that currently has hardware in orbit.

To date, more than 1,700 SpaceX Starlink satellites have been launched, with thousands more planned. OneWeb’s initial quota is set at 650 satellites, a stark comparison to SpaceX’s huge fleet.

Amazon last month signed an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch nine of its upcoming Kuiper missions on an Atlas V rocket, and TelStar has yet to announce its launch plans.

Friday’s launch took off on time, after a 24-hour delay due to a problem with the rocket’s electrical system. The ground crews replaced one of the components and the flight then went off without a hitch.

The flight marked the 3rd of the year since Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome and the 8th Soyuz launch so far in 2021. The launcher is powered by rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen.

The 36 OneWeb satellites, which were built in Florida, were put into orbit on top of a 170-foot-high (52-meter) Soyuz 1.b rocket. Its four strap boosters provided an extra punch on takeoff, then separated two minutes after takeoff.

The rocket’s center stage then burned for an additional three minutes before falling back to Earth. An upper stage of Fregat performed a series of four burns before placing the satellites in their orbit.

The OneWeb satellites will deploy in groups of four before deploying their solar panels and using their xenon-powered ion propulsion systems to reach the planned operational orbit at an altitude of 1,200 kilometers.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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