A Soyuz rocket launched 36 new OneWeb internet satellites into orbit from Russia early Thursday (Oct. 14), pushing the communications provider past the halfway mark to completing its growing megaconstellation.
The OneWeb satellites soared into space atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in a mission operated by French company Arianespace. Liftoff occurred at 5:40 a.m. EDT (0940 GMT).
The spacecraft deployed from the Soyuz into a near-polar orbit with an altitude of 280 miles (450 kilometers). These deployments occurred in four-satellite batches, the last of which successfully took place about four hours after liftoff, Arianespace representatives announced via Twitter Thursday.
The solar-powered satellites will now make their own way to their operational orbit, which lies 746 miles (1,200 km) above Earth. They’ll have lots of company up there; the constellation already consists of 322 spacecraft, all of which were lofted by Arianespace.
And many more will join this group over the coming weeks and months. The London-based OneWeb is building a constellation of 648 satellites, which will beam broadband internet service to people around the globe.
“Once deployed, the OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals that are capable of offering 3G, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, providing high-speed access globally — by air, sea and land,” Arianespace representatives wrote in a mission description.
OneWeb plans to start providing such service to northern regions of the planet by the end of this year, with global coverage expected to follow in 2022.
The company will have some competition for this product. For example, SpaceX has already launched more than 1,700 of its Starlink broadband satellites (with many more the come) and is currently beta-testing the network’s service. And Amazon plans to loft its own internet-satellite constellation, though none of these spacecraft have left the ground to date.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the cosmodrome used to launch the OneWeb 11 mission. It is the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia, not Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14 to state that all satellites had deployed successfully.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.