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OneWeb: Russian space agency refuses to launch internet satellites and points to UK sanctions

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OneWeb, a London-based satellite startup battling for global internet connectivity and a key competitor to Elon Musk’s StarLink satellite internet constellation, was due to launch a batch of 36 internet satellites on Friday as part of its plan for a constellation of 648 satellites. But those plans are now in jeopardy as Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, looks set to block the effort.

A Russian-made Soyuz rocket operated by French company Arianespace SA was supposed to deliver the satellites to low Earth orbit, from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. OneWeb and Russia have signed a multi-year satellite launch agreement, with the company launching its satellites exclusively on Russia’s Soyuz rocket.

But Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos and a former deputy prime minister with a knack for incendiary rhetoric, refuses to go ahead with what should be a routine launch in response to British sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

The agency demands that the British government sell all stakes in OneWeb and that the company guarantees that the satellites will not be used for military purposes, according to an ultimatum issued on Twitter from the official account of Roscosmos. Roscosmos stressed on Wednesday that the demands were “due to the UK’s hostile stance towards Russia.” The deadline for applications to be met is Thursday 9:30 p.m. Moscow time, Rogozin said in a maintenance with Russia 24.
OneWeb already has 428 satellites in orbit, with its last satellite launch last month. The company is struggling to attract customers and repay investors after the British government and India’s Bharti Global saved it bankruptcy in 2020.

Rogozin has tweeted flamboyant statements in the past in response to Western sanctions, including in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest that the United States bring its astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” Rogozin said at the time. on Twitter following US sanctions against the Russian space sector.

Despite Rogozin’s flamboyant tweets and interviews, the United States and Russia have always cooperated in space. As tensions on Earth led to threats of premature exit, Rogozin promised that Russia would remain NASA’s partner on the International Space Station at least until the station was finally retired.
British lawmakers have shown no sign of bowing to Roscomos and submitting to the demands. “There is no trading on OneWeb: the British government does not sell its share”, tweeted On Wednesday, Kwasi Kwerteng, British Secretary for Business and Energy. “We are in contact with other shareholders to discuss next steps…”

OneWeb did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.