Monday, March 21, 2022

SpaceX to launch satellites for competitor OneWeb

Elon Musk may be the richest person in the world because he is motivated by more than profit.

Covering the US flag on a Russian rocket (image source)
On March 2, Russia covered the US flag on the Roscosmos Space Agency rocket that was scheduled to launch 36 OneWeb broadband satellites on March 5. The Russians made two obviously untenable demands -- that OneWeb guarantee that the satellites would not be used for military purposes and the United Kingdom government remove its investment in the company. OneWeb declined and the satellites were removed from the rocket. 

On March 17, speaking at a USAID forum, Bala Balamurali, OneWeb's Director for Southeast Asia & the Pacific, said the plan to offer service later this year had slipped to early next year due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The schedule delay and loss of expensive satellites and payment for this and future launches was a major setback for OneWeb and they began searching for a new launch provider.

The plaques on the "wall of patents" at Tesla were replaced
by a mural (image source)
They found one -- broadband competitor SpaceX. Coming to the rescue of a competitor might seem like bad business, but Elon Musk may be the richest person in the world (with the possible exception of Putin) because he is motivated by more than profit. Musk does not see the success of the Starlink broadband business as an end in itself, but as contributing to his larger goals of extending the scope and scale of consciousness beyond Earth, achieving AI-human symbiosis, and transitioning to sustainable energy.

In 2014, Musk made a similar decision in support of his goal of transitioning the world to sustainable energy when he released Tesla's 249 patents into the public domain, saying "All Our Patent Are Belong To You" (derived from an obscure meme). He open-sourced them.

Update 4/22/2022

OneWeb has also contracted for satellite launches with New Space India Limited (NSI), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation. They will launch satellites with both NSI and SpaceX in 2022, so the Russian cancellation might not cause a large delay.

Update 4/272022

OneWeb has announced that they will begin service in India in early 2023. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they planned to begin serving India in mid-2022. The invasion cost their schedule to slip by about six months.

Update 3/27/2023

OneWeb has given up on retrieving satellites left in Russia

CEO Neil Masterson said that the company has largely given up on retrieving 36 satellites currently held by Roscosmos, saying "I spend no time thinking about it. We've completely moved on ... There is value in getting them back, but I can tell you that I'm not getting them back any time soon."

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