OneWeb deployment reaches halfway point with Soyuz 2.1b launch

The initial deployment of OneWeb’s satellite broadband constellation will reach its halfway stage on Thursday… The post OneWeb deployment reaches halfway point with Soyuz 2.1b launch appeared first on

OneWeb deployment reaches halfway point with Soyuz 2.1b launch

The initial deployment of OneWeb’s satellite broadband constellation will reach its halfway stage on Thursday with the launch of 36 more spacecraft aboard a Russian Soyuz 2.1b rocket. Liftoff from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Eastern Russia is scheduled for 18:40 local time (09:40 UTC) on October 14.

Thursday’s launch is the 11th in a series of flights to deploy OneWeb’s initial constellation of 648 satellites. With 322 satellites already in orbit and 36 more on the way with this launch, the completion of this mission will mean more than half of the initial constellation has been deployed.

OneWeb satellite constellation

Founded by American businessman Greg Wyler in 2012,  with a large fleet of small satellites in low Earth orbit similar to SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Unlike Starlink, OneWeb sees its primary customer base as business and government users.

Satellite internet services are seen as a way to bring high-speed connectivity to regions that cannot easily be served by terrestrial broadband – for example, remote rural locations where the infrastructure may not exist and would not be cost-effective to develop.

Traditional communications satellites operate in geostationary orbits, high above the Earth’s equator; however, this presents a difficulty for internet providers as the travel time to and from the satellites results in latency, a delay in the round trip time to request and load data – such as a web page – across the network. Placing satellites in lower orbits reduces this problem as signals do not have as far to travel, but this comes at the cost of needing more spacecraft to ensure continuous global coverage.

While the first 648 spacecraft will make up its initial constellation, OneWeb has committed to building at least 900 satellites. The additional units will serve as spares and replacements for any that might fail or reach the end of their operational lives.

Each OneWeb satellite has a mass of 147 kilograms and an expected design life of at least seven years. The constellation occupies a near-polar orbit with an altitude of 1,200 kilometers at an inclination of 87.4 degrees. Once fully deployed, the constellation will consist of 18 planes, with 36 satellites in each plane.

The  to allow time for on-orbit testing before operational launches commenced. Subsequent missions have carried groups of either 34 or 36 satellites, with the first operational launches taking place in February and March 2020.

After failing to secure enough investment, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in March 2020, halting launches. Three months later, the British government acquired the company in conjunction with Indian-based Bharti Enterprises Ltd.

With funding secured, OneWeb exited the bankruptcy process in November and launches resumed the following month. 

Visualization of a OneWeb satellite in orbit. (Credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb is currently expecting to begin offering an initial commercial service in the Northern hemisphere by the end of the year.

Soyuz Launch from Vostochny 

OneWeb selected  to carry out its initial launches, using the workhorse Russian Soyuz rocket which Arianespace markets to fill the gap between its heavy-lifting Ariane 5 and lighter Vega rockets. The agreement between OneWeb and Arianespace includes launches from three different sites – the  in Kourou, French Guiana, the  in Kazakhstan, and the  in Russia’s far east.

Soyuz/OneWeb #11 UPDATES
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  • Launches from Baikonur and Vostochny are subcontracted to Starsem, a partnership between Arianespace, the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Soyuz manufacturer TsSKB Progress. Thursday’s launch is the 11th that Arianespace and Starsem have performed for OneWeb and will be the sixth from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Of the other launches, four have flown from Baikonur and one from Kourou.

    With 36 spacecraft aboard, the total payload mass for Thursday’s launch is 5,797 kg, which includes the satellites themselves as well as their mounting and deployment mechanisms. Soyuz will use a Fregat upper stage to deploy the OneWeb spacecraft into an orbit about 450 kilometers above the Earth, with the satellites using their electric propulsion systems to raise themselves into their operational orbits.

    While Soyuz has been the launcher of choice for OneWeb’s early missions, the company is keeping its options open for future satellites after recently signing a letter of intent with the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to place future satellites aboard India’s PSLV and GSLV Mk.III rockets. While the non-binding agreement does not commit OneWeb to launching their satellites with ISRO, it could pave the way for missions from India to begin as early as next year.

    OneWeb has previously explored other providers, signing launch contracts and options with Blue Origin and Virgin Orbit for future missions on their New Glenn and LauncherOne rockets, respectively. Most of the contracts with Virgin have since been canceled, leading to a legal dispute between the two companies. OneWeb also secured a deal with Arianespace to fly its satellites on the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 rocket; however, this was later canceled as OneWeb reviewed its deployment plans in preparation to emerge from bankruptcy.

    The Soyuz 2.1b/Fregat-M rocket for this mission is a four-stage version of the most powerful form of the Soyuz rocket. Soyuz is descended from a series of rockets that trace their lineage back to Sergei Korolev’s R-7 missile of the 1950s, although the current-generation Soyuz-2 rockets were introduced in 2004.

    The Soyuz-2 family consists of three variants. The Soyuz 2.1a is a modernized version of the previous-generation Soyuz-U, incorporating upgraded engines, digital flight control systems, and other enhancements. The Soyuz 2.1b offers increased performance through a redesign of the third stage, including a new RD-0124 engine. The third variant is the smaller Soyuz 2.1v, designed to carry lighter payloads.

    The three stages of the Soyuz 2.1b burn RG-1 kerosene propellant and liquid oxygen. The first stage consists of four boosters clustered around the core – or second – stage. The third stage is mounted atop the second stage, with the OneWeb satellites – as well as the Fregat upper stage – enclosed within the payload fairing at the nose of the vehicle.

    The restartable Fregat upper stage was developed from the propulsion system of the Fobos probes that the Soviet Union sent to the Martian moon Phobos in the late 1980s and is frequently used as an upper stage on Soyuz to enable the delivery of satellites into higher, more precise or more complex orbits than would be possible with just the Soyuz vehicle itself.

    Fregat burns hypergolic unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide and can make up to 20 burns in the course of a single mission.

    The Soyuz for the OneWeb 11 mission is rolled to the launch pad. (Credit: Roscosmos)

    Thursday’s launch will use a Soyuz rocket with serial number X15000-009 on a flight designated ST36 by Arianespace and Starsem. The mission will last three hours 51 minutes 40 seconds from liftoff until the final satellite separates.

    The flight will begin from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia’s newest launch site having supported its first launch in April 2016. Located in Russia’s eastern Amur Oblast, it was built on the site of the former Svobodny missile base which had previously hosted a small number of orbital launches with the solid-fueled Start rocket.

    Vostochny currently has launch facilities for Soyuz rockets, with an Angara launch complex under construction. The Soyuz complex at Vostochny is designated Pad 1S.

    Soyuz rolled to the launch pad on Monday in preparation for the OneWeb mission. The final countdown began about nine hours before liftoff with system checkouts on the rocket and ground infrastructure before operations proceeded into fueling four and a half hours ahead of launch.

    For Soyuz, the final startup sequence will see the first and second stage engines ignite at the T-16 second mark. Each of the four first stage boosters is powered by a single RD-107A engine while the second stage is powered by an RD-108A that incorporates four vernier nozzles for control of the rocket’s attitude.

    Once a good burn in all combustion chambers is confirmed, a signal will be sent to take the engines to full thrust at T-4 seconds, followed shortly thereafter by liftoff.

    For the first 117 seconds of the flight, the first and second stage engines will fire together to propel Soyuz through the dense lower regions of Earth’s atmosphere. Once the first stage has consumed its propellant, it will shut down and separate – with the four boosters being pushed away from the second stage by venting residual oxygen from their noses. On a clear day, the “cross of Korolev” – named after the rocket’s chief designer – can be seen as the boosters fall away from the still-burning second stage.

    Soyuz and OneWeb 11 stand on the launch pad. (Credit: Roscosmos)

    Once the rocket crosses out of the aerodynamically sensitive portion of the flight, the payload fairing is no longer needed and will separate at about T+3 minutes 35 seconds. The second stage will continue to fire until T+4 minutes 46 seconds when the next stage separation event will take place.

    For the second-third stage separation, Soyuz uses a “hot fire” approach, where the third stage’s RD-0124 engine ignites while the second stage is still burning. This “hot staging” ensures that the rocket remains under constant forward acceleration so propellants in the third stage tanks remain settled for ignition. A lattice interstage between the second and third stages allows exhaust gases to escape in the moments between third stage ignition and second stage separation.

    A few seconds after the second stage separates, the third stage’s aft skirt will also be jettisoned, splitting into three sections and falling away from the vehicle. The third stage will burn for about four and a half minutes and will deploy Fregat a few seconds after its burnout.

    The first burn of the Fregat upper stage’s S5.92 engine will begin at T+9 minutes 22 seconds and last for about five minutes. Just under an hour later, Fregat will fire again for another short burn that will circularize its orbit, setting up for the deployment of the OneWeb satellites.

    The satellites will separate in nine groups of four, with a gap of just over 19 minutes between each separation event. The first four satellites will separate one hour and 18 minutes after launch, with the final four separating at the three-hour 51-minute 40-second mark. After deploying its payloads, Fregat will make another short engine burn to deorbit itself, concluding the mission.

    Thursday’s launch is expected to be the last OneWeb mission of the year, ending a streak of seven launches over the last six and a half months. The next OneWeb mission had been expected in late December but has slipped to 2022.

    (Lead image: Soyuz rolls out for the OneWeb #11 mission. Credit: Roscosmos)

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    To the Final Frontier: NS-18 shepherds William Shatner, three others to edge of space

    Blue Origin flew their second crewed suborbital tourism flight on their New Shepard capsule and… The post To the Final Frontier: NS-18 shepherds William Shatner, three others to edge of space appeared first on

    To the Final Frontier: NS-18 shepherds William Shatner, three others to edge of space

    Blue Origin flew their second crewed suborbital tourism flight on their New Shepard capsule and rocket with four passengers, including Star Trek’s William Shatner.

    Liftoff of the NS-18 mission occurred at 09:49 AM CDT (14:49 UTC) from Blue Origin’s suborbital launch and landing facility north of Van Horn, Texas on Wednesday, October 13.

    The mission was originally targeting a launch on Tuesday, October 12; however, unfavorable weather caused Blue Origin to shift the mission by one day per preflight weather assessments.

    The suborbital mission lofted four participants inside of the New Shepard capsule to an altitude above 100 km, where they experienced up to four to five minutes of microgravity.

    The exact amount of time spent in microgravity was dependent on the ultimate altitude reached by the capsule, which was itself dependent on day-of weather conditions and the day-of performance of the BE-3 engine that powers the New Shepard booster.

    The BE-3 engine burned liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen stored in the New Shepard booster’s propellant tanks. It produced 490 kN (110,000 lbf) of thrust at liftoff, increasing to 710 kN (160,000 lbf) thrust as the rocket ascended into the vacuum of space.

    Ignition of the engine occurred at the T0 mark in the countdown. This was followed by seven seconds of vehicle and engine health checks before New Shepard was released from the pad at the T+7 second mark.

    The NS-18 mission was the second crewed suborbital tourism flight from Blue Origin in the last three months, following crew flight debut on the NS-16 mission on July 20, 2021.

    The Passengers

    William Shatner

    Born March 22, 1931, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, William Shatner is an actor, author, director, producer, screenwriter, and singer who has enjoyed a now 70-year career in the arts and entertainment industry.

    His film debut came in 1951 in the Canadian picture “Butler’s Night Off.” He began appearing in roles in American television in the late 1950s and guest-starred in numerous shows throughout the early 1960s.

    In 1963, he appeared in the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” in which his character sees something out on the wing of a passenger plane.

    In the 1980s, he starred in the main role of police officer T.J. Hooker, and in the late 1990s he guest-starred as The Big Giant Head in the comedy series “3rd Rock From The Sun.” In the 2000s, he portrayed eccentric lawyer Denny Crane for all five seasons of “Boston Legal.”

    He is also a No. 1 selling musician, with his album “The Blues” attaining the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Blues Chart in October 2019. 

    An avid horse breeder, he raises American Saddlebreds and is active in numerous charities, including the “Horses For Heroes” program for both veterans and wounded service personnel. “The program uses both mounted and un-mounted equine-assisted activities to help in physical and emotional healing,” according to its website.

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  • But it is the role he earned in 1966 for which he is best known and cemented him as a cultural icon: Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Star Trek franchise.

    He appeared in every episode of The Original Series and reprised the role in The Animated Series and seven feature films.

    His last on-screen appearance as Captain Kirk came with the 1994 movie “Star Trek Generations” — though he reprised the role in voiceover form later for the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” various video games and TV commercials, and NASA in 2011.

    For the U.S. space agency, Shatner recorded a paraphrased version of the iconic Star Trek opening monologue to honor the final voyage of the Space Shuttle Discovery. 

    Played for the STS-133 crew on March 7, 2011, Discovery’s final day docked to the International Space Station, the crew were awakened by Shatner’s voice saying: “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

    Now, just more than 55 years after he originated the role of Captain Kirk, a man (and character in Kirk) who inspired multiple generations to become astronauts and scientists and leaders and commanders finally got his chance to travel to the place that is synonymous with his name.

    William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk during the three-year run of the original Star Trek series. (Credit: NBC Television/Paramount/CBS)

    Speaking before the flight, he said, “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.”

    While he was the first main cast member of Star Trek to travel to the final frontier, he was not be the first Star Trek actor to do so.

    That honor is held by NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who flew as a Mission Specialist on the STS-47 flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in September 1992 before appearing as a Transporter officer in the Season 6 episode “Second Chances” of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

    Dr. Jemison routinely credited “Star Trek” and Nichelle Nichols — who starred alongside Shatner as Lt. Uhura — as being a role model for her and inspiring her to become an astronaut.

    Two other NASA astronauts, Terry Verts and Mike Finke, appeared in the “Star Trek: Enterprise” episode “These Are The Voyages…” in 2005.

    At 90 years old, William Shatner became the oldest person to date to travel into space.

    Audrey Powers

    Audrey Powers is Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations and oversees all New Shepard flight operations, vehicle maintenance, and launch, landing, and ground support infrastructure. 

    Audrey Powers. (Credit: Blue Origin)

    She was part of the multi-year process to certify New Shepard for human flight after previously serving as Deputy General Counsel and Vice President of Legal & Compliance for Blue Origin.

    Before her work in legal, she was a guidance and control engineer for almost a decade and served as a flight controller for NASA with 2,000 hours of console time in Mission Control for the International Space Station to her name.

    Powers is a licensed pilot and serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

    “I’m so proud and humbled to fly on behalf of Team Blue, and I’m excited to continue writing Blue’s human spaceflight history,” Audrey said in a statement released by Blue Origin. 

    “I was part of the amazing effort we assembled for New Shepard’s Human Flight Certification Review, a years-long initiative completed in July 2021. As an engineer and lawyer with more than two decades of experience in the aerospace industry, I have great confidence in our New Shepard team and the vehicle we’ve developed.”

    Dr. Chris Boshuizen

    Chris Boshuizen is the co-founder of Planet Labs, where he served as Chief Technology Officer from 2010 to 2015.

    During this time, Planet Labs became the first company to commercially utilize nanosatellites. It now has more than 450 satellites in low Earth orbit that provide daily, global mapping of Earth’s changing surface.

    Dr. Chris Boshuizen. (Credit: Blue Origin)

    After leaving Planet Labs, Dr. Boshuizen served as a Space Mission Architect at NASA’s Ames Research Center from 2008 to 2012. At NASA Ames, he co-invented the NASA Phonesat, a free-flying orbital satellite built out of an ordinary smartphone. 

    While at NASA, he also established Singularity University, a school for studying the consequences of accelerating technological development. 

    He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Sydney, during which he served as the first Executive Director of the Space Generation Advisory Council.

    “This is a fulfillment of my greatest childhood dream,” Dr. Boshuizen said of his flight. “More importantly, though, I see this flight as an opportunity to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and catalyze the next generation of space explorers. After all, our future of life in space is in their very capable hands.” 

    He was the third Australian to reach space.

    Glen de Vries

    Glen de Vries is the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, the world’s most-used clinical research platform. The platform has enabled more than 25,000 clinical trials with more than seven million patients in areas from vaccines to cancers and rare diseases. 

    He is the Vice-Chair of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Dassault Systèmes, which acquired Medidata in 2019. He is also a Trustee of Carnegie Mellon University, author of “The Patient Equation,” and is an instrument-rated private pilot. 

    “I’ve spent my entire career working to extend people’s lives. However, with limited materials and energy on Earth, extending our reach into space can help humanity continue to thrive,” said de Vries via a statement issued by Blue Origin. 

    “Furthermore, astronauts can experience the ‘overview effect,’ gaining a new perspective on how fragile and precious our planet, those resources, and our civilization are.”

    “Playing a part in advancing the space industry and one day making those resources and that understanding available to everyone is an incredible opportunity. I’ve been passionate about aviation and space for as long as I can remember, so this flight is truly a dream come true.”

    (Lead image: The crew of NS-18. Left to right: Dr. Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, and Glen de Vries. Credit: Blue Origin)

    The post To the Final Frontier: NS-18 shepherds William Shatner, three others to edge of space appeared first on

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