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OneWeb pulls employees out of Baikonur Cosmodrome, suspends launches from site

A Russian Soyuz rocket topped with 36 OneWeb internet satellites was scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 4, 2022. But Russia has imposed new demands on OneWeb and the UK government, calling the launch into question.
A Russian Soyuz rocket topped with 36 OneWeb internet satellites was scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 4, 2022. But Russia has imposed new demands on OneWeb and the UK government, calling the launch into question. (Image credit: Roscosmos via Twitter)

It doesn't look like OneWeb's next batch of internet satellites will get off the ground anytime soon.

Thirty-six OneWeb broadband spacecraft had been scheduled to launch on Friday (March 4) atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which is managed jointly by the Russian Aerospace Forces and Roscosmos, Russia's federal space agency.

But on Wednesday (March 2), Roscosmos announced that it would not go ahead with the launch unless OneWeb guaranteed that the satellites would not be used for military purposes. The Russian space agency further demanded that the United Kingdom government divest itself from the London-based company. (The UK government helped buy OneWeb out of bankruptcy in late 2020.)

Related: Satellite photos show 40-mile-long Russian military convoy near Kyiv

Those demands, issued amid rising tensions centered on Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, will not be met. UK government representatives have said that the nation will not sell its shares in OneWeb, and the company is pulling its employees out of Baikonur, SpaceNews reported on Wednesday (opens in new tab).

OneWeb ordered staff to leave the site on Wednesday, Chris McLaughlin, OneWeb’s chief of government, regulatory affairs and engagement, told SpaceNews. And the company is halting its operations at Baikonur, at least for the time being.

"The Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur," a company spokesperson said early Thursday (March 3) in an emailed statement.

OneWeb is building a broadband network that will consist of 648 satellites initially. France-based company Arianespace is launching the spacecraft, using Soyuz rockets that have lifted off from Baikonur, Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East and Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. 

To date, more than 420 OneWeb satellites have reached orbit. The remaining spacecraft that will complete the initial constellation are scheduled to launch from Baikonur on a series of missions this year, though it does not seem that plan will hold.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 1 p.m. EST on Thursday (March 3) with news that OneWeb is suspending all launches from Baikonur.

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

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Mike Wall
Mike Wall

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) 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.