Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit aircraft satellite launch company is suing OneWeb – in which Virgin was originally a shareholding partner – over a cancelled contract to launch batches of its satellites. Virgin commenced its action on June 4th in New York’s Southern District Court, and OneWeb must file a response by June 25th.
The initial 2015 contract saw OneWeb agree to pay Virgin Orbit $234 million (€207m), or the equivalent of $6 million a launch, to place 39 batches of satellites at a rate of one or two per launch. The cancellation covered 35 out of the 39 contracted launches, leaving just four launches intact. The move prompted the enforcement of a $70 million termination fee that was written into the contract.
Virgin Orbit, in its affidavit as detailed by Law360, says that OneWeb still owes Virgin $46.32 million of the termination fees ($26.25m paid) and states that OneWeb was additionally seeking to reduce the launch rate and reduce the cost per launch.
OneWeb has already placed six satellites into orbit (in February) and will be using Arianespace’s Soyuz rockets to place batches of 35 satellites on each launch, and has reserved at least 21 launches with options on a further five, plus future launches with the new Ariane 6 rocket. OneWeb plans to place 650 satellites into orbit.
Despite this legal battle, it seems Branson‘s team are staying friends with OneWeb at least until the contracted flights have taken place, and say they are looking forward to supporting the OneWeb constellation for many years to come.
Virgin Orbit’s contract called for options on an additional 100 launches down the line.