After OneWeb’s own launch plans were derailed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, SpaceX launched a large number of internet satellites for a megaconstellation competitor Thursday evening (Dec. 8).
At 5:27 p.m. EST (2227 GMT), a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 40 OneWeb satellites launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, soaring into orbit in a stunning sunset liftoff. Amazing images of the Falcon 9 were captured by ground-based cameras as its first stage separated and returned to Earth for a precise landing on a SpaceX pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
During the live launch commentary that followed the landing, SpaceX propulsion engineer Youmei Zhou stated, “We did just get back confirmation of a nominal orbital insertion.”
In the past, it sent a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station in December 2021 for NASA, a Hotbird 13F spacecraft from Eutelsat in October, and one batch of Starlink internet satellites from SpaceX.
The OneWeb satellites were still being carried into orbit by the upper stage of the Falcon 9.
“We have liftoff! Our 40 satellites have left the ground in Florida,” OneWeb announced via Twitter(opens in new tab) after launch. “Thanks to our colleagues at @SpaceX for a successful lift off.”
The spacecraft were deployed as planned by the Falcon 9 (opens in new tab) in three roughly equal sets that began 58 minutes after launch and ended 30 minutes later.
OneWeb’s broadband constellation of 648 satellites in low Earth orbit will face some competition from SpaceX’s Starlink. Before today’s launch, more than 460 OneWeb spacecraft had entered orbit, the majority of which were mounted atop Soyuz rockets built in Russia and operated by the French company Arianespace.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, that arrangement broke down, putting OneWeb out of business. With agreements with SpaceX and New Space India Limited (NSIL), the company quickly filled it. These contracts’ terms have not been made public.)
On October 21, an Indian GSLV Mark III rocket successfully launched 36 OneWeb spacecraft, marking the beginning of the NSIL deal. SpaceX launched its first OneWeb mission on Thursday. It was also OneWeb’s first launch from Florida, putting over 500 satellites in orbit for the company.
SpaceX pushed back Thursday’s liftoff to perform additional checks (opens in new tab), as Elon Musk’s company has done with several of its Falcon 9 rockets recently. The liftoff was originally scheduled for Tuesday, December 6. It was SpaceX’s 55th 2022 launch.