An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launched dozens of new internet satellites into orbit Monday (Dec. 27) to boost a growing megaconstellation by service provider OneWeb.
The Russian-built Soyuz rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:10 a.m. EST (1310 GMT). The flight comes just two days after an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket launched NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope into space on Christmas from Kourou, French Guiana and just ahead of the New Year, closing out Arianespace’s launch manifest for 2021.
It’s “a special time of the year for a very special flight,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said via a video message during a launch webcast. The launch was Arianespace’s 15th of 2021 and the last of the year, he added.
Monday’s launch marked the eighth launch of the year for OneWeb, which now has 394 of its internet satellites in orbit. If all goes well, the 36 new satellites will be deployed in an initial orbit 280 miles (450 kilometers) above Earth about 3 hours, 45 minutes after liftoff. They’ll then head off to a final orbit more than 621miles (1,000 km) above Earth.
The London-based OneWeb is building a constellation of 648 satellites to provide high-speed internet access to customers around the world, especially remote and under-connected locations. This year, the company reached the 60% mark of their constellation in space and signed a series of distribution agreements with partners in Australia, Canada and Europe for their service network.
“The demand for connectivity is not just at an emotional level, it is almost visceral,” OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson told Via Satellite in an interview this month. “We think we have this incredible opportunity to level up this digital divide and help close it.”
OneWeb is not the only company vying for the satellite internet customers.
SpaceX is building a megaconstellation of its own called Starlink and has launched 1,944 satellites since 2019. That constellation is expected to number at least 4,400 satellites in its initial configuration. Amazon is also developing its own internet satellite constellation called Kuiper, but has yet to launch any satellites.