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Russia to launch communications satellite aboard Soyuz-2.1b rocket

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Russia to launch communications satellite aboard Soyuz-2.1b rocket

Roscosmos
Photo: Roscosmos

Russia is expected to launch the Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Vostok launch complex today carrying the UK’s OneWeb communications satellites into orbit.

The launch is part of Russian space agency Roscosmos’ 2015 contracts to launch 21 commercial satellites for OneWeb and Arianespace.

OneWeb satellites are designed to deliver high-speed internet access anywhere on Earth, but the company has not officially started service yet due to supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in 2020 before receiving major investments from Bharti Global and the British government.

OneWeb previously faced criticism from the Russian government, which claimed the satellites would be used to covertly gather intelligence. In order to maintain the 2015 contracts, Roscosmos attained majority control of the Russian OneWeb subsidiary in 2018. Russia’s inclusion in the project of global internet access is essential due to the country’s geographic span.

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The OneWeb collaboration with Russia has been fraught with difficulty, highlighted by the decrease in promised launches from 21 to 19. The eight remaining launches will test Western-Russian collaboration and continued mistrust may push Russia to seek out other actors for future satellite partnerships such as India.

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