The new deal puts SpaceX, the world’s most prolific commercial launch provider, in the unique position of launching satellites that could compete with its own Starlink satellites in the space-based internet business. OneWeb is, however, currently marketing its services to businesses rather than directly to consumers, as SpaceX does with Starlink.
OneWeb, which is partially owned by the British government, was set to launch a batch of 36 internet satellites in early March. But Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos and a former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia with a flair for inflammatory rhetoric, then announced Russia would refuse to go ahead with what should be a routine launch in response to UK sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
“The Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur,” the UK firm said in a statement responding to Rogozin’s tweets.
Rogozin has tweeted flamboyant statements in the past in response to Western sanctions — namely in 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” Rogozin said at the time on Twitter following US sanctions against Russia’s space sector.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
The Elon Musk-led company is still far ahead of its competitor in deploying its satellite internet constellation. Roughly 2,000 SpaceX Starlink satellites are already in orbit and it has customers all over the world. Earlier this month, SpaceX even delivered Starlink ground terminals to the Ukrainian government amid Russia’s invasion, which could allow people in the country to remain online if Earth-based internet infrastructure in Ukraine is destroyed.