OneWeb has put up another 36 satellites, taking its in-orbit constellation to 146 spacecraft.
The new platforms were lofted by a Soyuz rocket from Russia’s the Far East.
The additions will enable engineers to further test the company’s promised system for delivering broadband internet connections from space.
OneWeb is now owned principally by the Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and therefore the UK government after they bought the enterprise out of bankruptcy last year.
The new management anticipates offering a billboard service this autumn to northern latitudes – including Britain, northern Europe, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Arctic Seas – with a full global roll-out of connectivity in mid-2022.
“We have what we call ‘five to 50’ (degrees latitude). So, that’s five launches we’d like to try to urge to the present coverage of basically the south coast of the United Kingdom to the North Pole,” explained chief executive Neil Masterson.
“By the end of June, we’ll have completed those launches to enable us to be providing our service. But in total this year, we expect to be doing somewhere between eight and 10 launches.
Mr. Masterson, formerly the co-chief operating officer at business information provider Thomson Reuters, was brought into OneWeb when it emerged from “Chapter 11” bankruptcy protection in November.
There has been an intense period of hires, with quite 200 employees joining the books since the autumn.
Supply chains have also had to be re-established, allowing OneWeb Satellites, the venture with Airbus, to resume full-volume manufacturing at its factory in Florida.
And all this has required extra capital.
OneWeb announced in January it had raised an extra $400m from tech investor Softbank and satellite services specialist Hughes Network Systems. But this still leaves OneWeb in need of about $1bn to end the set-up of its first-generation constellation of 648 satellites.
Those spacecraft also need an array of supporting ground stations dotted around the globe.
The chief executive said, “We need another ground station to completely support commercial service within the areas mentioned by the top of this year”.
OneWeb says its testing program is progressing well, and during a demonstration, this month for the US Department of Defense claimed its satellites were providing downlink data rates of up to 500 megabits per second with a delay, or latency, within the internet connections as low as 32 milliseconds.
OneWeb’s chief competitor within the internet mega-constellation business is Starlink, which is being found out by the Californian rocket company SpaceX.
Starlink, which has 1,320 satellites in orbit now after another launch on Wednesday (the architecture of its network requires more satellites than OneWeb) has already begun beta testing with high-latitude customers.