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OneWeb dedicates satellite launch to first spacewalker Alexei Leonov

OneWeb has dedicated its third broadband satellite launch to the memory of the world's first spacewalker, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. The launch comes 55 years after Leonov's spacewalk. (Image credit: OneWeb)

A company launching a constellation of broadband satellites is paying tribute to the first "human satellite" 55 years after he walked in space.

OneWeb has dedicated its third satellite launch to cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who became the first person to leave his spacecraft and float in the vacuum of space on March 18, 1965. The launch of OneWeb's next batch of satellites on a Russian Soyuz rocket is scheduled for Saturday (March 21).

"We are proud to celebrate the pioneers and trailblazers like Alexei who inspire us and who continue to fuel our drive for success," OneWeb said in a statement

Related: OneWeb launches 34 internet satellites into orbit to boost broadband megaconstellation 

OneWeb's "Launch #3 Spacewalker" mission patch bears Leonov's name and the date of his historic spacewalk. It depicts Leonov in his spacesuit, performing the first extravehicular activity (EVA) while floating at the end of an umbilical extending from his Voskhod spacecraft's airlock.

The circular patch also shows Earth set against the rising sun with rays extending out to the spacewalker.

"The light of the sun was very intense and I felt its warmth," Leonov said in an interview with the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale on the 50th anniversary of his spacewalk in 2015.

Leonov died four years later in October 2019 at the age of 85.

The OneWeb 3 launch, conducted by Arianespace together with its partner Glavkosmos, will place OneWeb's 34 satellites into a near polar orbit of 289 miles (450 kilometers), after which they will be raised to their final orbit of 745 miles (1,200 kilometers).

The 34 satellites will bring OneWeb's constellation total to 74. The satellites were built by OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus.

The first six of OneWeb's satellites were launched in February 2019, followed by 34 more in February 2020. The previous two missions were not dedicated to a historic figure like Leonov. OneWeb plans an initial constellation of 650 satellites orbiting Earth on 12 different planes.

The 1:06 p.m. EDT (1706 GMT or 10:06 p.m. local) launch on Saturday will originate from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same launch site (but different launchpad) where Leonov and his Voskhod 2 crewmate Pavel Belyayev lifted off in 1965.

OneWeb, which is working towards using its satellite constellation to offer broadband internet service, expects its first service demonstration by the end of the year. Commercial use is slated for the end of 2021, supporting the maritime, aviation, government and enterprise sectors.

"Our constellation will level the playing field and connect the communities, areas and industries that have until now been excluded from fast, reliable Internet access," Adrian Steckel, OneWeb's CEO, said in a statement after the company's first launch. "What we are undertaking here is a project of ambitious scale."

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.