Roskosmos stops the 14th OneWeb mission
Scheduled for liftoff on March 5, the Soyuz rocket loaded with 36 OneWeb satellites became the first space launch cancelled as a result of the Russian war against Ukraine. Preparations for the mission were put on hold on March 2, with the rocket already on the pad in Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Preparations for launch
The launch of the Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat-M rocket with the 14th batch of OneWeb satellites was originally scheduled for March 5, 2022, at 01:41:02 Moscow Time from Site 31 in Baikonur. The rocket was to carry 36 satellites during the mission.
14th OneWeb launch campaign
On January 3, Roskosmos announced that the first OneWeb launch of 2022 from Baikonur was postponed from January 27 until March 5 due to a request from the customer. At the time, a total of seven OneWeb launches were planned during 2022, including six from Baikonur and one from the ELS site in French Guiana.
As of early January, the launch campaign for the 14th mission was scheduled to begin on January 26 with the processing of the Fregat upper stage, which had been previously delivered to Baikonur. The arrival of the satellites for the mission from the manufacturing plant was scheduled for February 10 but an An-124 transport aircraft carrying 36 satellites did not arrive at Baikonur until February 16.
The train carrying components of the Soyuz-2-1b launch vehicles and payload fairings for two upcoming OneWeb missions arrived at Baikonur's Site 112 on February 1. At the same time, Fregat upper stage for the next OneWeb mission was undergoing electric tests, Roskosmos announced.
On February 24, Roskosmos announced that the assembly of the payload section for the mission had been completed, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, followed by massive western sanctions and counter-sanctions. Nevertheless, the rocket was rolled out to the launch pad at Site 31 on the morning of March 2, but shortly thereafter, Roskosmos head Dmitry Rogozin announced that the mission would not proceed unless he received assurances by 21:30 Moscow Time on March 4 of non-military use of the satellites. Rogozin also demanded that the British government give up its stake in OneWeb.
In the meantime, the operations on the pad continued according to procedures on the first day on March 2, Roskosmos said. The State Corporation also published visuals of workers on the access gantry covering up US, Japanese and British flags on the payload fairing of the launch vehicle.
By the middle of the day, Kwasi Kwarteng, UK Business and Energy Secretary, announced that there were no negotiations on OneWeb and the UK government was not selling its shares. "We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps," Kwarteng wrote on Twitter.
On March 3, 2022, the Board of OneWeb announced that it had voted to suspend all its launches from Baikonur. The next day, the rocket was removed from the launch pad and returned to the vehicle assembly building at Site 31.
After the payload section was separated from the launch vehicle, a group of Western specialists responsible for processing of OneWeb satellites in Baikonur began de-stacking operations and preparation of the satellites for their return to the United States where they were manufactured. Because the satellites were fueled with propellant for their electric engines at their production site, there was no need to de-fuel them at the launch site.
By March 10, 2022, the payload dispenser with the satellites was removed from the Fregat upper stage clearing the way for removing the satellites. Before March 20, all foreign personnel that participated in the 14th OneWeb mission had safely departed Baikonur, but the satellites packed inside sealed containers remained stuck at the center's clean room due to lack of authorization to transport them back to the United States. Despite continuous attempts to obtain the shipment permission, as of March 20, Russian authorities still refused to clear the transfer. As of middle of 2022, the satellites still remained stuck in Baikonur. Only by October 2022, after the change of leadership at Roskosmos, did Russian authorities indicate that the stranded batch of satellites could be returned to the OneWeb company.
By that time, OneWeb was already in final stages of preparation for a new attempt to launch its 14th mission with a different batch of 36 satellites, this time on an Indian GSLV-Mk3 (LVM3) launch vehicle from Pad 2 at Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. On Oct. 18, 2022, OneWeb announced that the liftoff had been planned for October 23, at 00:07 India Standard Time (2:37 p.m. EDT on October 22).
Payload arrangement for the OneWeb launch on the Soyuz rocket with 34 satellites. The satellites are attached to a 5.5-meter-tall, 1.7-meter-in-diameter adapter built by RUAG Space. Credit: Arianespace
Workers covering British and US flags on the payload fairing of the 14th OneWeb mission on March 2, 2022. Credit: Roskosmos