Russia’s Space Isolation Grows as OneWeb Cancels Launch

OneWeb, a British government-owned satellite internet company, has canceled its next satellite launch using a Russian rocket and suspended all future launches depending on Russia, the company announced on Thursday after a tense public outcry with Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos.

Also on Thursday, Roscosmos announced that it would stop selling rocket engines to American companies.

The consequences of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are both measures to further isolate the Russian space agency from its Western space partners and to dramatically limit Russia’s private space activities. The loss of OneWeb, a reliable rocket provider for launches, also poses new challenges for the company as it aims to complete the constellation of its 648 satellites in orbit later this year.

OneWeb was saved from bankruptcy in 2020 by the British government and other investors. It was to launch 36 satellites on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan on Friday. The company has sent about 400 satellites into orbit since 2019, each time using a Soyuz, a workhorse rocket that has been active since the days of the Cold War space race.

But on Wednesday, after Soyuz rolled out a pad before its launch, Russia’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, announced two conditions aimed at countering Russia’s sanctions on its invasion of Ukraine: the space agency will not move forward. Except for the satellite mission, Britain withdrew its multibillion-dollar stake in OneWeb and the company “guaranteed that its satellites would not be used for military purposes.”

Mr. Rogozin too Posted a video on Twitter Shows Roscosmos crews on a platform next to the rocket, covering the British, American and Japanese flags on the outside of the rocket. “The launches at Baikonur determined that without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful,” he said. Rogozin, a former deputy prime minister who often makes bombastic comments on social media.

The space agency’s ultimatum came Just three days before the previously planned launch, crisis discussions erupted between British officials and OneWeb shareholders, who on Wednesday night decided to shut down all future launches from Baikonur to Kazakhstan’s Spaceport, where Russia launches most of its launches. Mr. Rogozin suggested on Twitter that OneWeb’s decision would plunge the company into another bankruptcy proceeding.

OneWeb’s chief of government affairs, Chris McLaughlin, dismissed the warning.

“This is an incredibly well-funded company with no debt, backed by powerful international shareholders who made the decision themselves,” he said in an interview.

Britain does not have the capability to launch large payloads into orbit. Mr. McLaughlin said OneWeb will look at alternative launch providers in Japan, India and the United States.

Mr. Said McLaughlin.

The company was saved from bankruptcy in 2020 by India’s Bharti Enterprises, Oneweb’s largest shareholder and Britain, whose રોકાણ 500 million public investment in a satellite operator aimed at boosting Britain’s space economy. Without a rocket to launch, OneWeb’s goal of completing the mega-constellation faces serious disruption. It is competing with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation to beam broadband internet in remote regions around the world.

OneWeb has already faced pressure from British politicians to pursue energy companies in serious Russian business relations. The company was paid for its Russian launch by wholesale French rocket company ArianeSpace and had six more missions left under contract – a launch lineup costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the coming days, OneWeb is ready to negotiate with Arianespace to determine, if possible, how to recover money for the suspended Soyuz mission, according to a OneWeb official who spoke on condition of anonymity about sensitive business discussions. It is not authorized to discuss. To declare. The official added that it is unclear to OneWeb officials when or how the 36 satellites currently in Russia for the now-canceled mission on Friday will come from rockets, or where those satellites will be stored when OneWeb searches for a different launch provider.

“There is no quick fix to this problem,” said Caleb Henry, a satellite industry analyst at Quality Analytics. “They have the money to find new launches, it’s just a big inconvenience to do so.”

Mr. Henry added that a launch contract of this size is usually signed two years in advance.

“OneWeb expected to finish their constellation by August, so with a new launch provider that won’t be possible,” he said.

Russia’s move to block the business of one of its space agency’s biggest commercial clients was perhaps the strongest example of how the war in Ukraine spread to space, an area where the country had cooperated with countries that once belonged to it for decades. Cold War opponents.

Last week, Roscosmos withdrew more than 80 Russian workers from French Guiana, where the European Space Agency has its only launch site and a commercial Soyuz mission. The ESA then said that a joint robotic mission to Mars by the agency and Russia, which is expected to launch later this year, is now “highly unlikely” to proceed in a timely manner. And on Thursday, Roscosmos said it would stop cooperating with Germany on joint space station research projects.

Victoria Samson, a space policy analyst at the Secure World Foundation, said that despite the impediment to Western sanctions on the invasion, Roscosmos’ separation from its Western partners seemed inevitable.

“It’s not encouraging that Russia’s space agency is becoming self-defeating,” she said. “Perhaps Russia is accelerating the demise of alliances that could happen at any time. But now it is being done on their own terms.

NASA, which manages the International Space Station jointly with Roscosmos, has said it wants to continue cooperating with its Russian counterparts. The two partners were negotiating an agreement to launch Russian astronauts on the SpaceX vehicle, Crew Dragon, carrying NASA astronauts.

Ahead of its cooperation with NASA, Russia on Thursday said it would block the sale of rocket engines to American companies.

Mr Rogozin said on Russian state television. “Let them fly over something else, their broom, I don’t know what.”

The freeze could hit Northrop Grumman the hardest, using a Russian-made engine for its Antares launch vehicle that carries cargo to the space station for NASA. SpaceX also provides this service to the space station, as spacecraft are launched by Japan and Russia.

In a more symbolic move, Mr. Rogozin said Russia would no longer support the use of a separate Russian engine already purchased and used for the United Launch Alliance for Atlas 5, the most widely used in American rockets.

“We can do without it if necessary,” said Tory Bruno, the ULA’s chief executive, downplaying the impact of the loss of technical assistance from Russia.

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