OneWeb satellite internet mega-constellation set to fly
The plans could eventually see some 2,000 spacecraft orbiting overhead.
Other companies are also promising so-called mega-constellations, but OneWeb believes it has first-mover advantage with an operational system.
Wednesday’s launch on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana is timed for 18:37 local time (21:37 GMT).
Controllers at OneWeb’s HQ in the UK capital will be waiting to pick up signals from the spacecraft when they come off the top of the Russian vehicle.
The platforms’ most important task is to secure the frequencies needed to relay the coming network’s internet connections.
Assuming these pathfinders perform as expected, OneWeb will then begin the mass rollout of the rest of the constellation towards the end of the year.
Old satellites will need 'rapid disposal' Launch completes Iridium refresh Who's winning the global 5G race?
This will see Soyuz rockets launching every month, lofting up to 36 satellites at a time.
To provide global internet coverage, there will need to be 648 units in orbit.
“We have a tonne of spectrum and we have it everywhere on Planet Earth,” explained OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel.
“We’re going to connect lots of people who’re not currently connected. We’re going to start by focussing on connecting schools, connecting boats, connecting planes, and connecting huge swathes of the planet that don’t make sense for fibre,” he told BBC News.
How big an undertaking is this?
Massive. Satellite technology is much, much less expensive than it used to be, and the large number of satellites needed for the network reduces the unit cost.
Even so, the spacecraft being turned out by OneWeb partner Airbus have a price of about one million dollars.
When you add in all the ground infrastructure needed to operate the system, the overall expense runs to more than three billion.
Some past satellite ventures that sought to build big constellations went belly up. Satphone companies like Iridium and Globalstar only exist today because bankruptcy proceedings relieved them of their debt.
Several other groups have registered their interest in competing with OneWeb, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. Musk’s engineers even have a couple satellites in orbit now to demonstrate technologies.
Commentators seem sure of only one thing: the market will not support all of the proposed mega-constellations.