Six satellites built in France for OneWeb are expected to be launched on Wednesday in French Guiana, the first of a series of at least 21 launches using Russian-made Soyuz rockets to carry more than 600 vessels the size of the world. 39, a refrigerator in orbit for global broadband service.
The launch is scheduled for 21:37 GMT (Wednesday at 16:37 EST) from the European Spaceport located in French Guiana on the northeastern coast of South America.
The Russian-made rocket aims to deliver the six satellites, built by an industrial consortium called OneWeb Satellites formed by Airbus Defense and Space and One Web, into an orbit about 1,000 kilometers above the Earth.
If the rocket and satellites all function as expected, OneWeb aims to launch a regular Soyuz launches pace later this year from launch pads located in French Guiana, Russia and Kazakhstan, carrying up to 32 satellites at a time.
This will allow OneWeb to have a first constellation of 600 satellites in orbit. OneWeb has signed a contract for 21 Soyuz missions with Arianespace, the French launch provider responsible for Soyuz flights from French Guiana.
"This is a great moment for OneWeb, where we definitely see our satellites, the manufacturing process, the design, the ground systems all together," said Greg Wyler, Founder and President of OneWeb, in an interview with Spaceflight Now on the veve of the launch. "The logistics chain set up to produce these satellites in volume now results in this launch. Assuming satellites work as expected, we can go directly to production. "
Spaceflight Now, members can read a transcript of our full interview with Greg Wyler. Become a member today and support our coverage.
OneWeb is at the forefront of several companies developing "mega-constellations" of hundreds, thousands, or small satellites for broadband Internet access.
SpaceX, Telesat and LeoSat are among other companies working on similar projects. SpaceX launched its first two Starlink demonstration satellites last year and Telesat also launched its first high-speed broadband satellite in Earth orbit to test in January 2018.
A review of readiness for launch at the Guiana Space Center on Tuesday allowed the mission to proceed with an attempt at launching today.
Officials postponed the flight one day to allow time for additional data analysis after the launch of a Soyuz operation last week from Kazakhstan and faced with a condition of underperformance on its upper floor.
Russian teams in French Guiana continued deploying the Soyuz reminder Saturday from their hangar – known by the Russian acronym MIK – on the launch pad. The OneWeb satellites and their upper Fregat stage, already encapsulated in the shroud of the Soyuz payload, arrived at the camp on Saturday night to mate with the rocket.
After Wednesday's takeoff, the Soyuz rocket will head north to French Guiana over the Atlantic Ocean, and drop its first four liquid-powered boosters into the sea about two minutes into the sea. of the flight.
The main floor and the third floor of Soyuz will continue to fire to place the top floor of Fregat and the OneWeb satellites on a suborbital trajectory. According to Arianespace's press kit for the mission, Fregat's upper-stage engine will use two hot satellites, weighing about 325 pounds (147.7 kg) each, in a 600-kilometer polar orbit.
The first pair of OneWeb satellites will be deployed from the Soyuz distributor, specifically designed for Ruag Space's OneWeb missions in Sweden, approximately 63 minutes after take-off at 22:40 GMT (17:40 EST).
The other four OneWeb satellites will be released from the carrier module at 22:59 GMT (17:59 Eastern Time).
The upper stage of Fregat will reignite later following a desorbite burn that will bring the worn rocket back into the Earth's atmosphere for a destructive return.
Wyler has spurred blue chip companies to invest in his dream of delivering affordable broadband Internet signals worldwide, a mission he sees as a prerequisite for providing billions of unconnected and poorly connected people serviced the tools necessary to succeed in the modern market of goods, services and information.
"It's the largest civil space system in the world, and everything is designed for the good of humanity," Wyler said Tuesday. "It's something very exciting, where so many people from so many countries and investments from all continents come together for a mission and a purpose. In the end, as we begin to connect emerging markets to developed markets, starting with providing opportunities and educating people, we will see something wonderful about the meeting of humanity. "
Among the OneWeb investors are Airbus, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group, Qualcomm SoftBank and Intelsat. Under the leadership of Wyler, OneWeb has raised more than $ 2 billion to fund the first series of satellites, their launches and a new plant at Exploration Park, located just outside the doors of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Bharti Enterprises, New Delhi, Hughes Network Systems – a subsidiary of EchoStar Corp. – and Totalplay, a company owned by Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, are also behind OneWeb.
OneWeb claims to need at least 600 satellites for global broadband service, but the company expects up to 900 satellites in the first generation network. Wyler said that a successful launch of the first six satellites will help the company secure the additional funding needed to fund the entire project.
"We had an extremely positive response from investors who saw OneWeb become a reality," said Wyler. "When you scratch the surface and start to dive into our systems, you realize that we have built the supply chain, we have the spectrum in place, we have the launch licenses, the approvals, we build a incredible constellation of security, so let's make sure that there is no space debris
"All these pieces are in place and they have been. We put them in place over the last six years, giving investors a fair degree of confidence in the reality and the background of our system to achieve that goal. So, I am full of optimism. "
Wyler is a serial entrepreneur whose vision has led to the creation of O3b Networks, which provides broadband services to a narrower band of the world. He is also passionate about using communications to improve the lives of the world's poor and has spent three years developing the Internet infrastructure to connect schools in rural Africa.
OneWeb is his latest project, the most ambitious. Wyler plans to deploy hundreds of satellites to cover the world in broadband, allowing everyone, regardless of their location on Earth, to have reliable access to the Internet.
Each satellite is about the size of a refrigerator and is built by an industrial team led by Airbus Defense and Space. Built in the manner of an assembly line, they carry plasma thrusters and miniaturized transmitters, antennas and other equipment needed to broadcast Ku-band signals to support OneWeb's global network.
The first six spacecraft are scouts and if they work as expected, OneWeb will soon transfer its production from the Airbus plant in Toulouse, France, to the new plant in Florida, whose footprint will occupy more than 9,300 square meters .
Officials initially planned to launch 10 pilot satellites during the first Soyuz launch, but OneWeb recently decided to fly six of them and keep the remaining four on the ground as spares.
If something goes wrong with Wednesday's launch, OneWeb will have the other four satellites ready to fly, ensuring that the company meets the regulatory deadline set in November to use the radio spectrum assigned to it.
"We need to launch and use our satellites to put our spectrum into service, in order to keep our priority rights on the spectrum for the system we have been designing since 2012. So, if there is a problem, we have Another four on hold, he says.
OneWeb has signed a contract for 21 Soyuz missions with Arianespace. The 21 Soyuz flights, each between 32 and 36 satellites, could take off from the Guiana Space Center, managed in Europe, or cosmodromes in Russia and Kazakhstan.
The first large-scale launch with OneWeb satellites is scheduled for August or September, again on Soyuz, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Wyler said.
"The Soyuz will take place in August or September in a symbolic scenario, which I can hope for but not wait," said Wyler. "But a nominal scenario will be in August or September, and we will launch every 21 days."
At this rate of launch, more than 600 OneWeb satellites, which will cost less than a million dollars per piece, could be put into orbit by the end of 2020, said Wyler.
This is the best scenario, assuming satellites and rockets can be built and launched efficiently.
Virgin Orbit and Blue Origin have also signed an agreement to launch OneWeb satellites. Wyler hopes the OneWeb "mega-constellation" will eventually contain thousands of satellites.
Email of the author.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.