One of the various companies looking to deploy a globe-spanning broadband internet satellite constellation is adding 34 satellites to its existing operations in space. OneWeb will launch that many satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan with a liftoff time set for 4:42 PM EST (1:32 PM PST) today. The new satellites will join OneWeb’s six already in orbit, which launched last February.
In total, OneWeb hopes to eventually operate at least 650 satellites in low Earth orbit, the combined network of which will be used to provide internet service to customers on the ground. Launch provider Arianespace will be flying as many as 19 more missions on behalf of OneWeb to fill out its constellation goals between now and the end of 2021, and will look to begin offering connectivity in a pilot testing capacity by sometime later this year, with full commercial service coming online next year, too.
OneWeb raised $1.25 billion in funding last year, raising its total overall funding to $3.4 billion, to help cover the cost of their mass manufacturing and deployment phase; a significant portion of its funding has come from SoftBank. This launch will put it in good stead to begin its first tests later this year, but the competition for constellation-based broadband internet service is intensifying, with SpaceX already having put up 240 satellites for its own Starlink project, with a lot more launches of 60 satellites each set for this year. SpaceX, of course, is also its own launch provider, which simplifies delivery.
Meanwhile, Amazon is undertaking a similar project, currently codenamed “Kuiper,” but it has yet to begin putting any hardware in orbit for its endeavor. OneWeb is targeting maritime, aviation, enterprise and government customers — as are other smaller startup companies, like Swarm Technologies and Kepler. Speed to market is definitely a factor as these operators begin to come online, but the potential market is massive and spans multiple industries, so there will likely be more than one winner when this ultimately shakes out.
OneWeb’s launch will be available closer to launch time via the YouTube stream above, so check back for updates.