Russia seeks OneWeb swap for Soyuz parts
January 16, 2023
By Chris Forrester
Back in March 2022, Russia’s Roscosmos Space Agency, in effect, confiscated 36 OneWeb broadband satellites. The satellites had been due to be launched on a Russian-built – but Arianespace managed – Soyuz rocket on March 4th from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The hijacked satellites have remained at Baikonur ever since. At the time, Roscosmos demanded that the UK government sell its stake in OneWeb and that the company guarantee that the satellites will not be used for military purposes.
Adding to the complicated relations between Russia and France, and not helped by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there are Soyuz rockets (or at least major components) sitting at the French rocket launch site in French Guiana. Roscosmos claims that rocket stages, containers with propellant, support hardware and documentation is still at French Guiana.
According to reports out of Russia, the new boss of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, is open to negotiations with Arianespace to see the satellites released from Baikonur if Arianespace gives up its Soyuz assets.
Some 87 Russian technicians and engineers were in French Guiana at the time of the confiscation and ordered out. Any Russian staff replacements would need French visas to re-enter and that does not seem likely under current diplomatic strains.
As part of earlier complex contract negotiations connected with the Russian launch it is Arianespace which has responsibility for the OneWeb satellites.
However, it is highly likely that the satellites might be covered by insurance, and OneWeb (and Arianespace) has since made alternate launch plans for the OneWeb satellites. Both SpaceX and India’s Space Organisation are contracted to make up for the lost Soyuz launches.