OneWeb disputes Virgin Orbit lawsuit, says LauncherOne is too expensive

Space

WASHINGTON — Megaconstellation startup OneWeb asked a court to dismiss a June lawsuit by Virgin Orbit, claiming that it doesn’t accurately portray a 2015 launch contract. 

Virgin Orbit, whose LauncherOne small launch vehicle is nearing a maiden flight, sued OneWeb for cancelling in June 2018 all but four of 39 launches it had purchased.

Virgin Orbit asserted that OneWeb owed $46.32 million of a $70 million termination fee. 

OneWeb, in an Aug. 5 filing to the District Court of the Southern District of New York, said Virgin Orbit overlooked a 2017 contract amendment allowing earlier launch payments to apply to the fee. 

OneWeb said it already paid Virgin Orbit more than $66 million, of which only $18 million went towards launches that are still expected to happen. 

“Virgin has received more than $48 million for future launch services that Virgin will no longer need to provide,” OneWeb said. 

In its court filing, OneWeb said the $6 million price tag for a LauncherOne mission is two to three times current market prices. 

OneWeb told the court that Virgin Orbit’s assessment it would make between $234 million and $832 million conducting launches for OneWeb overstates the value of the contract. 

The original contract, OneWeb claims, allowed for termination without cause, and for prior payments to apply to the termination fee. Those contract termination rules, and the fact that Virgin Orbit has yet to conduct any LauncherOne missions, invalidate Virgin Orbit’s revenue expectations, according to OneWeb. 

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is designed to launch 300 kilograms to a 500-kilometer orbit — enough to potentially carry two OneWeb satellites, depending on the weight of adaptors and supporting equipment. 

European launch provider Arianespace launched the first six OneWeb satellites on a Soyuz rocket in February. OneWeb said Aug. 7 it succeeded in bringing its Ku- and Ka-band spectrum into use per International Telecommunication Union rules with those satellites, ensuring spectrum access for the larger constellation.

The majority of OneWeb’s initial 648-satellite constellation is projected to launch on Soyuz rockets 34 to 36 at a time. OneWeb has in the past described Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne as playing a support role while Arianespace Soyuz rockets complete the bulk of its constellation deployment.

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