UK government-backed OneWeb suspends satellite launch at Russia-operated spaceport

Satellite launches by a British government-backed telecommunications company will not proceed after the company’s board of directors ceases to use a Russian-operated spaceport.

OneWeb planned to launch 36 broadband satellites in Kazakhstan on Friday in an operation that would have been monitored by the Russian space agency using the Russian Soyuz rocket.

However, under political pressure after Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, the board of directors of a London-based company was welcomed by its major shareholder, the British government, to “launch all launches” from Baikonur Cosmodrome. “Pause” was resolved.

Kwasi Kwaten Business Secretary wrote on Twitter:

“In the light of Russia’s illegal and provocative invasion of Ukraine, we are considering participating in all further projects, including Russia’s cooperation.”

Darren Jones, chairman of the Labor Party of the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Commission, should consider Russia’s cooperation with companies investing in the UK government as “inappropriate” given Moscow’s attack on its neighbors this week. I wrote a letter to the minister to ask if.

The UK acquired £ 400 million ($ 535 million) in a failed digital company to bail out bankruptcy in July 2020 as part of a consortium with India’s Bharti Global after the bidding war. did.

This move has allowed OneWeb to continue its role in the competition to send Internet access from low earth orbit satellites around the world.

Not only was there domestic pressure on the company, but before the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome operated by Moscow, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had made a request to OneWeb and the British government.

On Wednesday, agency manager Dmitry Rogozin said he wanted to “guarantee” that the satellite would not be used by Western troops and called for “the removal of the British government from the shareholder list,” according to media outlet Interfax. ..

Rogozin also told the Rossiya24 television channel that Russia would “hold money” paid by OneWeb if the launch was canceled because of “the unavoidable forces created by aggressive Western policies and anti-Russian sanctions.” Told.

Kwarteng said the UK will not sell OneWeb shares, and the company’s board of directors resolved to suspend Friday’s launch on Thursday morning.

When asked about the situation on Wednesday, Downing Street said it was “correct” that questions were raised about “space cooperation” with Moscow and that “careful monitoring” of OneWeb’s launch prior to subsequent cancellations. rice field.

As of last month, OneWeb had 428 satellites in orbit, and another one-third of the LEO satellite fleet is still ready as part of its mission to provide “fast, low-latency global connectivity.” Is not …

The company aims to operate 558 satellites and spares in space to provide global coverage.

We are currently discussing with our French partner Arianespace where future launches will take place, with five satellite launches in 2020, not yet.

PA news agencies understand that the United States, Japan, and India are all being considered as future takeoff locations.

Chris McLaughlin, Head of Government, Regulation and Engagement at the company, said: Our focus was on getting our staff safe. “

He said the advice the company received on the best way to comply with the Itar (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) rules (US Defense Regulations) is “to launch a satellite into space, which we launch. That’s why I tried to start. “

Patrick Daily

PA media