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Russia Refuses to Launch OneWeb Satellites, Issues Conditional Demands

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The Russian space agency has refused to launch UK’s three dozen OneWeb Internet satellites unless its demands are met in response to international sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb’s 36 satellites were scheduled to take off on top of a Russian Soyuz rocket on March 5, which were rolled out to the pad at the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Space.com reported.

After the roll, Roscosmos Director-General Dmitry Rogozin, in a tweet on Wednesday, said that the agency will not launch the satellites as planned if the company does not guarantee that the craft will not be used for military purposes.

Further, the agency demanded that the UK government, a primary shareholder in OneWeb, remove its investment in the company as another condition for launch.

The report said that if these demands are not met by 1.30 pm EST (12.00 a.m. IST) on Friday, Roscosmos will remove the Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying the satellites from the launch pad.

There’s no negotiation on OneWeb: the UK Government is not selling its share. We are in touch with other shareholders to discuss next steps, – UK Member of Parliament Kwasi Kwarteng, who serves as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said on Twitter.

The Russian demands come amidst the nation’s invasion of Ukraine, an action that has been vehemently condemned by many countries around the world, including the US and the UK. Such condemnation has included new economic sanctions, imposed by the US and other nations.

Roscosmos has been cutting ties with some of its long-time partners, citing the sanctions as the rationale.

Roscosmos announced on February 26 that it will no longer collaborate with the European Space Agency at the European spaceport in French Guiana, on the north coast of South America.

The ultimatum comes as a blow as OneWeb thought the launch would still take place even amid the Russian invasion

“I’ve been at this since last Thursday, taking it day by day by day,” Chris McLaughlin, chief of government, regulatory, and engagement at OneWeb, was quoted as saying to The Verge,

He added that he was “encouraged specifically by Rogozin’s tweets that they were looking forward to launching. And something changed.”

Roscosmos claims that delaying the launch “will cause no economic damage” because the rocket had already been built and paid for, according to Russia’s state press organization TASS.A

The OneWeb satellites will also remain at the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan “until the situation is resolved,” the space organization claims.

Roscosmos said if this rocket is not used to launch OneWeb’s satellites, then it will be used for another flight, the report said.

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