Russia Won’t Launch OneWeb Satellites Without a Guarantee of No Military Use – CNET

Russia Won’t Launch OneWeb Satellites Without a Guarantee of No Military Use – CNET

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A Soyuz rocket prepares to launch OneWeb satellites from Kazakhstan in 2020.

OneWeb

The head of Russia’s space agency continues to lash out against the West’s condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by making threats and erecting roadblocks between Earth and orbit

Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin said Wednesday that the agency will not carry out the planned launch of a batch of OneWeb broadband internet satellites on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft unless the UK sells its share in the company and OneWeb guarantees its constellation will not be used for military purposes. 

The UK government teamed up with Indian telecom giant Bharti Global to acquire the financially troubled OneWeb in 2020. Despite some false starts in its history, the company aims to offer some competition for Elon Musk’s Starlink. 

Rogozin’s ultimatum comes after Musk announced that Starlink has been activated in Ukraine and that SpaceX has begun shipping new receivers into the war-torn nation. 

“We have serious doubts about how OneWeb will behave in such a situation when the [UK] government is the controlling shareholder,” Rogozin said on Russian TV, according to state news outlet Tass.

The UK government is actually not the largest shareholder. Bharti currently holds twice as much equity in the company, and Eutelsat and Softbank are also significant shareholders.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began last Thursday, and the reaction to it has been playing havoc with space operations around the world. The ExoMars mission, developed in partnership between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, is now no longer expected to launch this year due to the fallout over European sanctions against Russia. 

Russia has also halted all Soyuz launches from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. 

Last week, Rogozin seemed to threaten to drop the International Space Station on the US or Europe in response to initial talk of US sanctions. True to form, Musk stepped up on Twitter to volunteer SpaceX spacecraft to take over the job of steering the ISS that’s now done with the help of Russian engines. 

Meanwhile, three Russian cosmonauts are set to launch to the ISS this month shortly before two different cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule.

Rogozin set a deadline of Friday to receive the guarantee from the UK, saying that otherwise “the rocket will be removed from the launch and the satellites will be sent to the assembly and test building.”

The launch was originally scheduled for Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

UK Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng made clear on Twitter Wednesday that the country will be holding onto its stake.

“There’s no negotiation on OneWeb: the UK Government is not selling its share,” Kwarteng wrote. “We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps…”

OneWeb and Bharti did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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