Arianespace Soyuz rocket aborts launch of 34 OneWeb internet satellites

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket topped with 34 OneWeb internet satellites sits on the pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome shortly before a planned liftoff on Aug. 19, 2021. The launch was aborted late in the countdown clock.
An Arianespace Soyuz rocket topped with 34 OneWeb internet satellites sits on the pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome shortly before a planned liftoff on Aug. 19, 2021. The launch was aborted late in the countdown clock. (Image credit: Arianespace)

Nearly three dozen OneWeb internet satellites will have to wait a bit longer to reach space.

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket carrying the 34 satellites of OneWeb's Launch 9 mission was supposed to lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today at 6:23 p.m. EDT (2223 GMT; 3:23 a.m. Aug. 20 local time at Baikonur). However, the launch was aborted "due to a non-nominal event during the final automatic sequence," Arianespace representatives wrote in an update this evening.

The problem has been identified and fixed, Arianespace said in an update Friday morning (Aug. 20). The liftoff was initially rescheduled for Friday afternoon but then delayed by another 24 hours, to Saturday (Aug. 21) at 6:13 p.m. EDT (2213 GMT; 3:13 a.m. on Aug. 22 Baikonur time). 

In photos: OneWeb launches new global satellite internet constellation

The 34 OneWeb spacecraft together weigh 12,165 pounds (5,518 kilograms). On launch day, they will all separate from the Soyuz by three hours and 45 minutes after liftoff. The satellites will deploy into a near-polar orbit with an altitude of 280 miles (450 kilometers), then gradually raise themselves into their operational orbit, 746 miles (1,200 km) above Earth.

The Launch 9 mission will bring the number of satellites in OneWeb's constellation to 288, all of them lofted by Arianespace over the course of nine separate flights (hence the "Launch 9" moniker). And the fleet will get considerably larger. 

"OneWeb’s constellation of 650 satellites will deliver high-speed, low-latency enterprise grade connectivity services to a wide range of customer sectors including enterprise, government, maritime and aviation customers," Arianespace representatives wrote in a Launch 9 mission description.

"Once deployed, the OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals that are capable of offering 3G, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, providing high-speed access globally — by air, sea and land," Arianespace added.

London-based OneWeb, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2020, aims to start providing commercial internet service by the end of this year. The first areas to be covered will be in the globe's northern reaches — the United Kingdom and other parts of northern Europe, Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic region, Arianespace representatives wrote in the mission description.

OneWeb is not the only company assembling a fleet of broadband spacecraft in low Earth orbit. For example, SpaceX has launched more than 1,700 of its Starlink satellites to date, and the company is currently beta-testing the broadband service they provide. 

SpaceX could eventually launch tens of thousands of Starlink satellites. And Amazon intends to launch more than 3,000 of its own broadband spacecraft, though none of them have been launched into orbit yet.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 6:50 p.m. EDT on Aug. 19 with news of the launch abort, then again at 7:30 p.m. EDT with further details from Arianespace, then again at 11:40 a.m. on Aug. 20 with news of the new target launch date and time, then again at 5 p.m. with news of the 24-hour delay.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.