Arianespace launches 36 new OneWeb internet satellites into orbit on Soyuz rocket

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 will deploy from the Soyuz into a near-polar orbit with an altitude of 280 miles (450 kilometers), Arianespace representatives wrote in a mission description. These deployments will occur in four-satellite batches, the last of which will take place about 3 hours and 51 minutes after liftoff. 

In photos: OneWeb launches new global satellite internet constellation

Arianespace launches 36 new OneWeb internet satellites into orbit on Soyuz rocket

A Russian Soyuz rocket overseen by Arianespace launches 36 OneWeb internet satellites into orbit from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia on Oct. 14, 2021. (Image credit: Roscosmos)

The solar-powered satellites will then 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 the mission description.

Arianespace launches 36 new OneWeb internet satellites into orbit on Soyuz rocket

The 36 OneWeb internet satellites of the OneWeb 11 mission are seen in their stacked configuration before being loaded into their payload fairing for launch. (Image credit: Arianespace)

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.

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