Launch stalemate: Russia holding UK satellites made in Florida hostage

Russia orders OneWeb to cut out UK government as an investor before launch

UPDATE: OneWeb has suspended all the company's planned launches with Russia from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.


Russia is making demands to OneWeb, a partially UK government-funded satellite company, before it will launch the dozens of spacecraft manufactured at a facility near Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This week Roscosmos was set to launch 36 OneWeb internet satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan; however, after the Soyuz rocket was rolled to the launchpad Roscosmos issued the following statement in Russian:

"Roscosmos demands guarantees OneWeb satellites not to be used for military purposes.

Because of Britain's hostile stance against Russia, another condition for the March 5 launch is that the British government withdraws from OneWeb."

The standoff situation comes in response to sanctions imposed by the UK against Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies have also used sanctions to devastate the Russian economy.

OneWeb has a satellite manufacturing facility in Merritt Island outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center, where it employs about 100 people. The 100,000-square-foot facility can manufacture up to two spacecraft a day that otherwise would take years.


Like SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, OneWeb plans to provide high-speed internet using satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, appeared in a video on Russian state media saying that OneWeb has until March 4 at 9:30 p.m. local time in Moscow to meet the demands of the Soyuz rocket will not launch. 

Don Platt, Florida Institute of Technology associate professor of space systems and the director of the Spaceport Education Center, said these demands are "nonstarters."

"[OneWeb] can't just go out and ask one of their main investors to no longer be involved with them because of a launch provider's demands and contracts have already been signed and put in place for this launch that was supposed to happen this week," Platt told FOX 35 Orlando. "So those aren't things that you can just suddenly come up with on the last minute, several days before the launch."

The UK government bought into OneWeb in 2020 when the company was bankrupt.

UK Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote in a tweet that the UK government is not selling its share in OneWeb. 

"There's no negotiation on OneWeb," Kwarteng said.

According to Platt, this strategy will likely be more damaging to the Russian space program than to anyone else.

"It would certainly damage the long-term credibility of using the Russians for commercial launches," Platt said.

The Russian demands could also benefit private space companies.


"There’s going to be a tremendous amount of people all over, whether it's in Europe or the United States, [who] will no longer have an interest in doing business with Russia, certainly in the space industry as well," Platt said. "There's no reason to go over to Russia anymore; it used to be that those were great deals and bargains. But now you can get bargains in the U.S. launch industry."

The impacts of sanctions and flight bans to and from Russia put in place by the U.S. and its allies because Putin invaded Ukraine could have longer-term effects on the Florida satellite manufacturing facility and the space industry as a whole.

OneWeb has selected Russia to launch about 19 missions.

During his State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden said the U.S. would join Canada and the European Union in banning Russian aircraft from U.S. airspace. This could impact getting OneWeb satellites built in Florida to Russia for these planned launches.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Aviation Administration issued orders blocking Russian aircraft and airlines from entering and using all domestic U.S. airspace. According to the FAA, the ban goes into effect by the end of Wednesday, effectively closing U.S. air space to all Russian commercial and civil aircraft.

Early Thursday morning OneWeb released a statement saying the board had voted to suspend all launches from the Baikonur.