OneWeb, the venture with grand plans to deliver global connectivity via satellite, turned to Airbus Group for the manufacture of 900 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
The firm, whose backers include the Virgin Group and Qualcomm, is forming a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space for the design and manufacture of its constellation.
OneWeb aims to offer affordable internet, both mobile and fixed, around the world through its massive deployment, with the aim of launching a service by 2019.
About 700 satellites, each of which will weigh less than 150 kg, will provide coverage, while the remaining 200 will stay on the ground. The earth-bound satellites are spares, with the firm assuming a level of redundancy of those in space.
OneWeb is not alone in pursuing the global connectivity agenda. Both Google and Facebook have expressed similar ambitions and there is an older heritage going back to the nineties of overarching schemes, such as Iridium or Globalstar, that used satellite technology to deliver services all over the world.
The current venture is aiming for ten times the constellation of the still surviving Iridium, which still claims to be the “only mobile voice and data satellite network that spans the entire globe”.
Iridium has 66 LEO satellites in orbit, and was considered ambitious at the time it was conceived and launched. Such schemes have to make back billions of investment dollars from users in sparsely populated parts of the world, and face competition from similar schemes trying to do the same thing.
The Airbus Group’s manufacturing capabilities will produce several OneWeb satellites per day, OneWeb said.
The first satellites will be designed and produced in Airbus’s Toulouse facility, following which a dedicated plant in the United States will takeover production. The estimated cost of the project is between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.