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‘Crack’ in upper stage of Soyuz launcher threatens to delay OneWeb launch

‘Crack’ in upper stage of Soyuz launcher threatens to delay OneWeb launch
Specialists from Roscosmos subsidiary NPO Lavochkin are scrambling to fix a micro-crack that may delay the launch of the Soyuz rocket carrying one of the first OneWeb satellites, which are to provide global broadband internet.

The flaw has been discovered in the Fregat upper stage, said a source cited by Russia’s TASS News Agency. Manufactured by NPO Lavochkin since the early 1990s, it serves as the fourth stage of the Soyuz rocket, sending larger payloads into intended low, medium-high and high Earth orbit after the rocket boosts it out of the atmosphere.

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According to the source cited by RIA Novosti, a micro crack has been found in one of the pipes that delivers helium to the fuel tanks to push out the propellant. The crack was found during pre-launch checks and is believed to have been caused during transportation to the launch site in French Guiana.

Specialists from the Russian aerospace company are currently studying the defect, and it may take them until the end of the week to determine the ways to fix the problem.

It is unclear, however, how much time will be necessary to repair the stage. Another source told RIA Novosti that welding work could be carried out on site only if the propellant tanks are emptied of fuel. There are concerns that Fregat will have to be sent back to Russia for repair, which in turn can delay the launch even further. The launch was scheduled for February 19, but now it might be pushed back to March, or even to the end of the year.

Last Tuesday, OneWeb Satellites announced the delivery of the first batch of its satellites to Kourou, a commune in French Guiana. The company, which is a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus, said that the long-awaited test launch would kickstart a series of similar launches.

It was set become the first of 21 launches agreed between Roscosmos, Arianespace and OneWeb in 2015. Over 600 satellites would be brought into low-Earth orbit by Soyuz rockets, with the first payload including only 6 OneWeb satellites.

OneWeb’s founder Greg Wyler said earlier that he hopes that the planned constellation would be put into service already in 2019, but admitted that it might well happen next year.

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