Russia’s Soyuz rocket was set to blast 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit from a launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, said Britain had to sell its shares in the company or promise not to use the satellites for military operations. The head of the agency, Dmitry Rogozin, even threatened to remove the Soyuz rocket from the launch pad and send the satellites “to the assembly and test building”. But it appears the UK has refused to back down.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote on Twitter: “There is no trading on OneWeb: the UK government is not selling its share.”
The UK’s OneWeb network is a constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that broadcast 3G, 5G, LTE and Wi-Fi signals for high-speed internet access to all corners of the globe.
The government bought a stake in the company after it was barred from the EU’s Galileo program after Brexit, getting its hands on a £400m stake in 2020.
Although OneWeb does not perform the same functions as Galileo, it was expected to one day compete with the project.
The British government has come under pressure to pull out of the Kazakhstahn launch due to the escalating conflict in Ukraine.
But he said he was continuing to discuss the situation with his OneWeb board partners.
While Russia appears to be preventing the UK from launching these satellites, Britain may have other options.
Indeed, a number of national rocket companies and spaceports are preparing for the first-ever rocket launch from British soil.
And ministers would like OneWeb to use the UK launch capacity when it becomes available.
Spaceport Cornwall is a possible spaceport that has been tipped for the first-ever rocket launch from UK soil as early as this summer.
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Lockheed Martin’s Spaceport Shetland and British company Orbex, which operates from Space Hub Sutherland, also compete with Spaceport Cornwall.
The two companies also hope to be able to launch small satellites, which may include OneWeb’s network.
Orbex CEO Chris Lamour told Express.co.uk: “We can apply for launch licenses that almost no other country in the EU can currently do.
“The UK is actually quite a big player in the generic space sector in terms of satellites and downstream services where we analyze data from satellites.”