OneWeb Ltd. has completed the launch of the final 36 satellites of its initial 616-satellite constellation, allowing the company to offer global broadband coverage this year. The move will see OneWeb compete directly with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network. The company’s CEO, Neil Masterson, stated that the successful launch was the result of an enormous amount of hard work and that the team had proven to be extremely resilient in the face of geopolitical issues over the past year.
OneWeb’s satellite network is expected to be operational in the lower 48 US states by May of this year, with global coverage expected by the end of 2023. The launch took place in Sriharikota, an island off the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The successful completion of the launch marks a milestone in the new space race to provide global broadband coverage via low-flying spacecraft.
OneWeb was founded a decade ago by serial space entrepreneur Greg Wyler. The company filed for bankruptcy in March 2020 due to economic turmoil caused by Covid-19, but was rescued by the UK government and Indian telecom tycoon Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Group. OneWeb has since attracted investment from SoftBank Group Corp, South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Systems Co, and US firm Hughes Satellite Systems Corp.
French satellite firm Eutelsat SA is also a major shareholder in OneWeb, and the two companies agreed to merge last July, pending regulatory clearance and a shareholder vote. OneWeb is also vying for a role in a multi-billion euro European Union satellite project dubbed IRIS².
OneWeb has contracted revenues of $900 million and plans to break even by 2025, according to Masterson. The company has also started planning for a second, more sophisticated wave of several hundred extra satellites, which could cost as much as $4 billion and be operational by 2028. OneWeb expects to send out information to potential “Gen 2” suppliers in the second quarter of this year.
OneWeb is the second biggest low-earth orbit or “LEO” system after Starlink, which has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit. Amazon.com Inc. is also planning its own thousands-strong system called Project Kuiper.
Despite being a direct competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink, Masterson downplayed any rivalry, stating that SpaceX targets consumers while OneWeb is targeting enterprise and government clients. OneWeb has previously used Musk’s rockets to send up its own satellites, after a launch with France’s Arianespace SA was derailed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.