The Russian government has hit the aerospace industry hard, using its leverage as a strategic partner for several private companies to retaliate against the international community for the sweeping sanctions placed against it.
However, many of these companies - especially those on the smaller scale - are now finding alternatives that allow them to sidestep the Russian government and keep their operations running. For OneWeb, this means getting into business with a rival.
From Rivals To Business Partners
In March, OneWeb announced that it had signed a partnership deal with SpaceX to help get its spacecraft into low Earth orbit. The company’s formal announcement confirmed that both organizations had understood their shared goal of improving access to and the utility of space. Their partnership will go a long way in helping OneWeb expand its reach beyond the stars.
OneWeb is looking to develop a constellation of almost 650 broadband satellites in space. While the company didn’t announce the details of its deal with SpaceX, the statement from its top brass suggests that SpaceX would help to deliver the remaining rockets in the constellation - which number about 200 - to space. The Texas-based private aerospace company has already all but mastered the art of launches, and its Falcon 9 rocket has now become the standard for spaceflight.
It is interesting to see how OneWeb has decided to go with a rival for its project. As many know, SpaceX is also building its network of satellites in pace under its Starlink project. Starlink already includes over 2,000 satellites, with the project looking to grow even bigger. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX could have up to 40,000 satellites in space, providing better access to the internet for millions across the world.
Regardless of their competition, it appears that both companies have managed to find common ground. And, it especially makes sense for OneWeb as it has lost a major partner in the Russian government.
International Relations Affect OneWeb’s Plans
Ever since the Kremlin began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the international community has hit the Russian government - as well as several notable private organizations and individuals- with massive economic sanctions. In retaliation, the Russian government has taken several drastic actions to hurt the West. One such action came from cutting all ties and partnerships between Roscosmos - the Russian state space agency - and private aerospace companies in the West.
Last month, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, told Russian state-owned news agency TASS that the space authority would immediately cease all rocket shipments to Western aerospace companies. The agency also confirmed that partnerships with these countries would be halted for now.
As soon as the Kremlin announcement came out, it became obvious that companies with reliances on Russian help for their space missions would be affected. And, OneWeb was caught in the crosshairs. The company had been using Russian-made Soyuz rockets to get its satellites into space. It got caught in a bad position when the Russians demanded that none of these rockets be used for military operations against the Russian forces.
Besides this outlandish demand, OneWeb’s Russian partners added that they would need the British government to divest itself of all OneWeb ownership before they can continue. The British government owns about 50 percent of OneWeb, investing £400m in the company back in July 2020 after One Web had failed to secure funding to continue building its fleet of satellites.
At the time, OneWeb was seriously on the verge of bankruptcy. Also, the United Kingdom had been barred from accessing the Galileo satellite navigation system as part of the fallout from Brexit. The British government argued at the time that owning OneWeb would allow them to build a British alternative to Galileo. Experts have disputed this plan, but the OneWeb acquisition could still be important for the British government.
When it became obvious that the British government would not sell its stake in OneWeb, the Russians made good on their threat and took off the Soyuz capsule from the launchpad. The rocket had reportedly already been fitted with about 36 OneWeb satellites and was ready to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Still, Roscosmos nixed the entire thing.
Still, OneWeb has shown that there is no need to worry. SpaceX has come to the rescue, and the company would gladly help OneWeb to get to space aboard its Falcon 9 rocket. The company has over 400 satellites in space already, and it hopes to begin using SpaceX’s rockets to fly the remaining at some point during the year.