Rogozin puts poison-pill conditions on OneWeb Soyuz launch

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TAMPA, Fla. — This week’s Soyuz launch of a set of OneWeb satellites has been thrown into doubt after Russia made new demands on the company.

In tweets Wednesday, just after the Soyuz rocket carrying 36 satellites rolled out to the pad at the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said the launch would proceed only if the U.K.-based company met new conditions.

These include a guarantee its satellites would not be used for military purposes and that the British government divest its stake in the company — demands OneWeb is unlikely to accede to. 

The Soyuz-2.1b rocket will be removed from the pad unless OneWeb guarantees by 1:30 p.m Eastern Standard Time March 4 its satellites will not be used for military purposes, the Russian space agency tweeted March 2.

“There’s no negotiation on OneWeb: the UK Government is not selling its share,” U.K. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted just hours later.

“We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps…”

OneWeb and the British government were already feeling pressure from members of parliament to call off the launch in order not to support Russian ventures. 

Darren Jones, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in Parliament, questioned the appropriateness of the upcoming mission in a March 1 letter to other government officials.

Jones has previously criticized the British government’s decision to invest $500 million in OneWeb to help save the company from bankruptcy in 2020.

Indian conglomerate Bharti Global owns about a third of OneWeb and is its largest shareholder.

France-headquartered Arianespace has so far launched 428 of OneWeb’s planned 648-strong constellation, enabling the company to provide connectivity above 50 degrees North. 

OneWeb had aimed to deploy the rest of the satellites before the end of August to expand its reach into more parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and other regions to provide global services.

Arianespace has performed 13 Soyuz missions for OneWeb to date across launch sites in Kazakhstan, Russia and French Guiana, where Arianespace launched OneWeb’s last batch of satellites Feb. 10.

Responding to European sanctions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s space agency said Feb. 26 it is halting cooperation with Europe on Soyuz launches from French Guiana.

Neither OneWeb nor Arianespace have commented in recent days on the company’s latest launch.