UK satellite company OneWeb cancels all Russian launches after dramatic fallout with space agency

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 03 March 2022 10:04 GMT

OneWeb, the UK satellite firm part-owned by the government, has cancelled its Russian launches.

The decision comes a day after Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, made a range of significant demands of OneWeb if the launches were to go ahead.

Now OneWeb says it is cancelling the launches rather than complying with those demands.

“The Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur,” a spokesperson from the company said, in reference to the Russian-operated cosmodrome.

OneWeb is a firm that makes and launches satellites to allow for internet connections from space, in a similar form to SpaceX’s Starlink. The UK government acquired a stake in the company in 2020, after it declared bankruptcy.

Its scheduled launch from Baikonur this week, on a rocket operated by Roscosmos, became a central test of the extent that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would affect co-co-operation in space.

On Wednesday, Mr Rogozin first demanded that OneWeb give a commitment that the satellites would not be used for any kind of military purpose. Soon after, he added that the UK government would have to sell its stake before the end of Friday for the launch to go ahead.

He made clear that OneWeb had already paid for the launch, and that Roscosmos would be keeping that fee whether or not it went ahead.

Mr Rogozin also tweeted a video that appeared to show Russian workers covering up the flags of a number of countries that were displayed on the rocket. “The launchers at Baikonur decided that without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful,” he wrote.

OneWeb initially said it was surprised by the demands, and after a period of silence the UK government said that it would not negotiate over a forced sale of the company.

“There’s no negotiation on OneWeb: the UK Government is not selling its share,” Kwasi Kwarteng, the business and energy secretary, said in a tweet. “We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps...”

On Thursday morning, OneWeb said that it would be suspending all launches. That includes not only this week’s mission, but another five launches that OneWeb has already paid for.

OneWeb did not say what would happen to the 36 satellites that have already been shipped to Russia ahead of the launch.

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