OneWeb was in trouble following Roscosmos’ ultimatum, but as often in recent weeks, Elon Musk hastened to occupy the field.
Earlier this month, the crisis in Ukraine claimed another collateral victim: OneWeb, a company that produces satellites that are part of the global Internet infrastructure. These risk being grounded because of the withdrawal of Russian aerospace, which usually takes care of putting them into orbit; but OneWeb will finally be able to count on SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company will take over from now on.
This story began at the beginning of March. Roscosmos then had to manage the launch of a Russian Soyuz operated by the French ArianeSpace; this was supposed to deliver 36 OneWeb satellites into low Earth orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
An operation that should be routine. Indeed, OneWeb is now one of the serious players in this aerospace niche; the British firm has already deployed a whopping 428 satellites. It therefore has considerable experience both on the purely technical aspect, but also on the management of its relations with the major players in the sector.
A Russian ultimatum against the backdrop of armed conflict
But this well-oiled machine came to a sudden halt, directly linked to the geopolitical context. Indeed, Roscosmos has decided to end this logistics partnership, depriving OneWeb of its access to space. The reasons for this decision are hidden in the list of investors of the firm.
Indeed, one of the main drivers of OneWeb is none other than the UK government itself; he has bought 45% of the shares of the company to save it from the bankruptcy, which gives it considerable weight in the piloting. A situation that has clearly cooled Roscosmos, knowing that the country is one of those who have imposed sanctions on the Russian economy.
As the deadline approached, the Russian government therefore sent an ultimatum to its counterpart across the Channel. The terms were as simple as they were categorical: the firm had to guarantee that these satellites would never be used in a military context, and Downing Street had to sell all of its shares to make it a strictly private company.
The British government is united
The reaction was not long in coming: the English government flatly refused. “There is no trading on OneWeb: the government will not sell its shares”, immediately hammered Kwasi Kwartng, government secretary in charge of these issues. “We are in contact with our shareholders to discuss the way forwarde”, he then specified. Rogozin then gave the government two days to change its mind.
But they didn’t even wait that long. Some observers expected OneWeb to turn to SpaceX, which has been particularly active since the start of the crisis; and this is indeed the option chosen by the OneWeb administration committee. The company announced yesterday the signature of a partnership with SpaceX for the putting into orbit of its satellites.
“We thank SpaceX for their support, which reflects our shared vision of the unlimited potential of space.”, writes CEO Neil Masterson in a OneWeb press release. “With this launch program, we will continue to build our fleet of satellites to deliver robust, fast and secure connectivity anywhere in the world..”
SpaceX takes advantage of the call for air
Even if they are technically in competition on the segment of web satellites, it is still a great operation for SpaceX, especially in terms of communication. Indeed, since the beginning of the crisis, the latter has never concealed its desire to fill the void left by Russian aerospace; she is even in the process of transforming herself into a true champion of musical chairs.
The firm of Elon Musk multiplies the very media interventions and systematically jumps on all the commercial opportunities since the beginning of the crisis. We can cite, for example, the highly noted delivery of satellites Starlink to Ukrainian forces.
Musk had also distinguished himself during the “ISS soap opera”, when Dimitryi Rogozine, the director of the Russian space agency, had gratified his audience with a memorable projection. Recently he had suggests that the ISS could meet a disastrous end if Russia ceases to cooperate with its counterparts. Elon Musk therefore jumped at the chance and immediately said SpaceX would be happy to take over in this case.
Similarly, the American giant is actively seeking to take advantage of the call for air caused by thecessation of rocket engine deliveries Russians in the United States. Once the dust has settled, it will therefore be interesting to see how well the firm has been able to take advantage of this delicate political context.