Skip to main content

Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit for modified satellite internet constellation

Image 1 of 6

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites to orbit on March 24, 2021.

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites to orbit on March 24, 2021. (Image credit: OneWeb)
Image 2 of 6

The Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Fregat upper stage and 36 spacecraft lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

The Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Fregat upper stage and 36 spacecraft lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. (Image credit: Roscosmos)
Image 3 of 6

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites to orbit on March 24, 2021.

OneWeb now has 146 satellites in its constellation after the fifth launch on March 24, 2021, when a Soyuz rocket delivered another 36 satellites to orbit. (Image credit: Arianespace)
Image 4 of 6

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites to orbit on March 24, 2021.

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites to orbit on March 24, 2021. (Image credit: Arianespace)
Image 5 of 6

A Soyuz rocket arrives at the launch pad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia ahead of its planned launch of 36 OneWeb satellites in March 2021.

A Soyuz rocket arrives at the launch pad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia ahead of its planned launch of 36 OneWeb satellites in March 2021. (Image credit: Arianespace)
Image 6 of 6

This Arianespace image shows how OneWeb's 36 internet satellites are stacked for launch on a Soyuz rocket ahead of a March 24, 2021 liftoff.

This Arianespace image shows how OneWeb's 36 internet satellites are stacked for launch on a Soyuz rocket ahead of a March 24, 2021 liftoff. (Image credit: Arianespace)

A Soyuz rocket successfully sent 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit Wednesday (March 24) as the London-based company continues its recovery from a tough 2020.

The European launch provider Arianespace launched the Soyuz rocket from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's far east at 10:47 p.m. EDT (0247 GMT or 11:47 a.m. local time Thursday, March 25). 

OneWeb satellites should have begun to deploy in groups of four beginning at 12:05 a.m. EDT (0405 GMT on Thursday, March 25), with the ninth and final group expected to deploy at 2:38 a.m. EDT (0638 GMT), if all goes according to plan. The satellites will circle Earth in a near-polar orbit at an altitude of roughly 280 miles (450 kilometers), which is slightly higher than the tilted equatorial orbit of the International Space Station.

This was the fifth launch for OneWeb overall. The satellite constellation, still under construction, aims to offer access to the Internet in remote areas using multiple Internet protocols, including 3G, LTE, the newest generation 5G (which enables the Internet of Things) and Wi-Fi, according to launch provider Arianespace.

In photos: OneWeb launches global satellite internet constellation

OneWeb "is focused on scaling the satellite constellation to launch commercial services starting at the end of 2021 to the UK, Alaska, Canada, northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic seas," Arianespace wrote in a mission description.

OneWeb had originally planned to put 48,000 satellites into orbit, but after a tough 2020 it filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January proposing 6,372 satellites.

The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a year ago shortly after the coronavirus pandemic erupted, told the FCC that the revision "demonstrates the commitment and vision" of its new owners, which are the British government and Indian telecom company Bharti Global. The goal is to deploy "a cost-effective, responsible, and groundbreaking satellite network to deliver global broadband," according to the filing, which was quoted by Space News in January.

A release by OneWeb announcing the new launch said the company is now "hiring at a fast pace" — with 200 new employees coming in since last fall — as the company builds a global ground station network. It pointed to a $73 million contract with Intellian for user terminals, and another contract (for an undisclosed amount) with Satixfy for Wi-Fi terminals on aircraft.

"OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture with Airbus, is manufacturing the satellites and has returned to full production," OneWeb added, saying it has secured global priority spectrum rights with the International Telecommunications Union to support the growing constellation. 

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.