LONDON — Telecommunications firm OneWeb, which is partly owned by the U.K. government, has suspended the use of Russian Soyuz rockets to launch broadband satellites because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday, the company’s board voted in favor of suspending 36 broadband satellite launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome base in Kazakhstan, which were planned in collaboration with the Russian space agency Roscosmos. All of the missions were booked onto Russian Soyuz rockets and were due to launch in the coming months, with an upcoming departure on March 5.
In recent days Roscosmos had demanded assurances from OneWeb that the company’s satellites would not be used for military purposes, and asked the U.K. government, which holds a £400 million stake in the company, to divest. Roscosmos said unless these demands were fulfilled, the space agency would not go ahead with the launches.
Space is an area of intense international cooperation, and the move will leave Moscow isolated in a sector that has historically been one of Russia’s biggest sources of national pride. OneWeb is now engaging with French rocket manufacturer Arianespace on new rockets for future launches, according to a U.K. official.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the U.K.’s secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, pre-empted that Roscosmos’ demands would not be met, tweeting Wednesday there would be “no negotiation” on OneWeb. “The U.K. government is not selling its share,” he wrote. “We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps.”
On Thursday, Kwarteng welcomed OneWeb’s vote. “In light of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we are reviewing our participation in all further projects involving Russian collaboration,” he said.
According to Russian news agency TASS, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said the OneWeb contract had been paid in full and the funds would not be returned. Darren Jones, the House of Commons business committee chair, has written to the U.K. government asking if OneWeb already made payments to the Russian space agency for the planned launches, and whether these would be subject to sanctions legislation.