Russia ‘hijacks’ a rocket and refuses to launch OneWeb satellites

In an unprecedented situation in the aerospace sector, the russian space agency (Roscosmos) refuses to perform the launch of 36 satellites for the British company OneWeb, unless their needs are met.

The launch was scheduled for this Friday (4), from the Baikonur cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, aboard a Soyuz-2.1b rocket. Spacecraft are part of a constellation for internet access in satellite broadband that OneWeb is building, and which already has 428 of the 648 scheduled satellites in orbit.

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But the Russians surprised the world this Wednesday (2) with two demands: in addition to the guarantee that the satellites will not be used to military purposesRoscosmos wants the UK government to get rid of its stake in OneWeb, the result of a bailout of the company as it declared bankruptcy in 2020.

If these requests are not met by 3:30 p.m. this Friday (4), the rocket will be removed from the launch pad. And given its sudden nature, it’s safe to say that the launch is, in fact, cancelled.

According to Kwasi Kwarteng, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and also a member of the country’s parliament, “There is no trading on OneWeb: the UK government will not sell its stake . We are in contact with other shareholders to discuss next steps,” he said via Twitter.

It should be remembered that this would not be the first version of OneWeb made by the Russians. In fact it would be the 13th, always with a rocket Soyuz-2.1b / Fregat-M. And on all previous occasions, Roscosmos has never cared about the potential uses of the satellites or the UK government’s involvement in the venture.

In other words, the whole episode is retaliation for sanctions that Russia, and by extension your space programreceives after the country launched a military campaign and invaded Ukraine on the 24th.

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The country recently announced the Withdrawal of his team working for the European Space Agency (ESA) and other customers on commercial launches from Kourou, French Guiana. With this, the launch of another Soyuz rocket with two satellites for the European navigation system Galileo, scheduled for April 6, has been canceled.

The American space agency (NASA) and the ESA are faced with another dilemma: for more than 20 years, they have been the partners of Roscosmos in the construction and operation of the International Space Station (ISS), and the laboratory was designed in such a way that the “American part” would have difficulty functioning without the “Russian part”, and vice versa. For the moment, NASA says that in orbit everything is going well, without prejudice to space cooperation.

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