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SpaceX launching competitor’s satellites Thursday

Silver and gold boxes stacked in huge cylindrical rack in assembly building.
A set of 40 OneWeb communications satellites stand packed in the cargo stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 lift vehicle. The 2 competing companies agreed to work together when OneWeb was unable to continue launches from Russia. This followed that country’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine in early 2022. Image via OneWeb.

SpaceX launching competitor’s satellites Thursday

Space launch leader SpaceX will boost a group of 40 communications satellites for OneWeb, a British company building a space-based system for global internet coverage. They will launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) no earlier than 5:27 p.m. ET (22:27 UTC) on December 8, 2022. The OneWeb satellite network will be a direct competitor for SpaceX’s Starlink.

The change marks a delay from the original launch target. When it flies on Thursday, it will mark the first of three such missions to carry OneWeb’s equipment to orbit. OneWeb announced the schedule change via Twitter.

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Watch the SpaceX/OneWeb launch … and touchdown … live!

When the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster carries the sats to space, it will be the 132nd time a booster from the Block 5 series will fly. So far, no craft from Block 5 has failed a mission.

Here’s the most exciting part to watch: The craft flying Thursday – B1069 – will return for a vertical landing at KSC after finishing its fourth orbital delivery mission!

The entire launch, landing and deployment will stream live at the OneWeb YouTube channel. In addition, SpaceX will also stream it.

Helping the little guy

In total, OneWeb will orbit 648 interconnected satellites to provide global internet coverage. This is an identical business model to SpaceX’s Starlink project. Starlink, however, is a far larger system.

Starlink currently provides internet coverage to more than 500,000 user terminals in 40 nations from the 2,945 satellites it launched so far. The plan calls for 12,000 total satellites on orbit. A later extension of the network could expand Starlink to 42,000 satellites.

To put its constellation in space, OneWeb was relying on the Russian state space agency Roscosmos. That partnership ended when Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022. This resulted in economic sanctions against it from the European Union, as well as other allied nations.

After OneWeb lost the ability to lift its satellites from the former Soviet Union, it eventually turned to SpaceX. Previously, the two companies had been at minor loggerheads over their competing systems. Since they became partners, that tune has changed.

You scratch my back …

There have been other benefits to OneWeb and SpaceX execs deciding to work together. They have apparently overcome previously irreconcilable differences.

Both companies had filed negative comments with the FCC about sharing the radio frequencies in space. Then, Space.com reported that on June 13, 2022, the companies penned a joint letter to the agency saying their concerns had magically resolved:

In the letter, which is dated June 13, SpaceX and OneWeb request that the FCC disregard previously filed dissenting comments regarding spectrum coordination in LEO. SpaceX and OneWeb both submitted proposals for their first-generation internet constellations to the FCC in 2016, followed by a second round of proposals in 2020 for each company’s next-generation broadband satellites. Simultaneously, both SpaceX and OneWeb submitted complaints with the FCC in an attempt to get a leg up on each other. Now, it seems the companies are operating on friendlier terms.

Bottom line: SpaceX will launch a set of communications satellites for rival OneWeb on Thursday, December 8, 2022.

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