MOSCOW (Reuters) – The UK firm OneWeb launched 34 satellites from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early on Friday as part of its effort to provide global high-speed internet access using satellite communications by 2021.
The Russian Soyuz rocket left Baikonur at 0242 local time (2142 GMT on Thursday), the second OneWeb launch out of 21 planned. OneWeb launched six satellites from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, in February 2019.
Several companies are competing in the race to provide internet access using satellites, with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos among the business leaders posing challenges to the British start-up.
OneWeb founder Greg Wyler intends to put 648 satellites into the Earth’s orbit and begin commercial use in 2020.
The firm has attracted around $1.7 billion from the Airbus Group, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group, Qualcomm and Softbank to deploy the satellite network.
The success of the project depends in large part on Russian partners after OneWeb signed an agreement with France’s Arianespace and Russian space agency Roscosmos in 2015 to launch all its satellites using Soyuz rockets.
Igor Komarov, the former general director of Roscosmos, claimed the contract amounted to more than $1 billion.
Despite becoming a key consumer in Russia’s rocket industry, OneWeb has been unable to obtain frequencies for work in Russia for more than two years, as Russia’s FSB security service considers OneWeb a threat to Russia’s national security.
(Reporting by Nadezhda Tsydenova, Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kim Coghill)