OneWeb to Launch Satellites With Rival SpaceX After Suspending Ties With Russian Agency

OneWeb to Launch Satellites With Rival SpaceX

The OneWeb launch scrub came amid heightened tensions between Russia and NATO governments.


The Russian space agency

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos has not launched any satellites into orbit since last year after parting ways with its historic agreement with the US-based satellite company.

One of many reasons for the breakaway was the emergence in November 2020 of a new American administration led by President Donald Trump that began to take a more hands-off approach to the relationship with Russia.

Ahead of today’s joint meeting scheduled for February 11th, Prime Minister Nikolai Maduro urged other states to “decide what they want to do and we will work together to make decisions on our own without having to depend on foreign space cooperation”.

The comments come as Russia and Europe continue to face questions over arms control and trade, including concerns about America’s reliance on allies in Europe in an increasingly important role.

The White House declined further comment, but officials said Washington’s stance remained unchanged. Putin’s government is believed to still be involved in discussions and negotiations with European leaders about the future of relations with Germany and France.

OneWeb CEO Sir Tim Peake recently explained

OneWeb CEO Sir Tim Peake recently explained his rationale for this decision: “It wasn’t right to be dependent on one single nation [Russia]. It would have been better if we had a common defence arrangement together with an integrated system. That is no longer possible given geopolitical realities. We need to cooperate.”

In order to achieve this, the Russian state needs to gain commercial, political and military leverage over the West’s rivals in Europe, particularly Germany and France.

In 2017, Vladimir Putin’s government signed agreements worth $1.5 trillion with three major EU nations: Austria, Belgium and Denmark. This was in addition to the contracts signed with six other countries.

One of these was an agreement for Spain and Portugal to use their unique capabilities to deploy nuclear weapons. In 2016, Spain deployed four of them while in the Mediterranean. And some 3,000 troops from Portugal, a neighbouring country, are currently deployed in Iraq and Qatar.

It was this deal that caused significant tension within NATO due to fears that Britain would become vulnerable to Moscow’s growing influence in western Europe.

The British ambassador to Brussels

The British ambassador to Brussels, Simon Coveney, previously commented on the issue: “The United States is deeply concerned about the potential impact of increasing Russian power on our shared security and transatlantic relations. The consequences are enormous. There is also a risk, as we see it now, of a more limited alliance within the existing Western unity that has lasted far too long.”

Coveney’s colleague, Matthew Rycroft, has also outlined worries: “With the Kremlin actively engaged in strategic competition with Turkey and Iran, and with Chinese and Ukrainian companies seeking to expand their presence across Eurasia in the coming years, there are real risks that this strategy could start to erode trust in NATO itself. I believe we must do everything that we can to protect our collective security in 2021 and beyond”.

The problem is that Russia has long been at odds with many NATO members including France, Germany and the Netherlands. These countries see Russia as their strongest ally against Beijing’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, which they view as destabilising and undermining western interests.

As these concerns grow, Russia and Western allies have reached a point where an increase in tensions is viewed as a clear possibility for conflict.

The UK, the French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel are among those who see a strengthening of the partnership between Russia and the west as necessary for a more agile response to China. All this comes against the backdrop of the ongoing war in eastern Syria, and the increasing threat from North Korea.

While all of this continues

While all of this continues, the oneWeb team were already preparing to take up the challenge. During the past 18 months the crew have undergone trials at various stages of development for the payload, during which time the spacecraft has flown to several different airports before finally being loaded onto its rockets by SpaceX. At this stage, their only job currently is to complete the final testing phase so that the rocket launchers can be transferred from each tower to the upper ones. They expect their first launch sometime early in 2021 after receiving clearance from NASA to land and then re-launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California and completing their initial checkout.

OneWeb’s founder, Michael Malchior

OneWeb’s founder, Michael Malchior, told CNBC about the challenges he faced when developing a new solution for space, he said: “It’s like learning how to walk again. You’ve got great legs, but you don’t know how to walk yet, so they say, ‘Walk.’ So to get somewhere, you need to get yourself ready for it”.

The launch of the OneWeb

The launch of the OneWeb constellation rockets in 2021 will occur nine days after the inauguration of American President Joe Biden as well as 10 days after his inauguration. Ahead of today’s inauguration, Mr Biden announced a global reset in the defense sector, which includes reducing funding for defence contractors, creating a commission and task force to review how the U.S.-led international system works on Earth’s magnetic field lines and building a new network of nuclear submarines to ensure safety. This followed another national security update in October in which he put forward a plan for global reclamation of Arctic marine environments over 30 years.

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