Airbus to build 900 satellites for OneWeb internet-from-space project – The Guardian

Airbus will design and build about 900 satellites for privately owned OneWeb, which plans to offer high-speed, space-based internet access to billions of people worldwide, company officials have announced.

About 700 of the satellites, each weighing less than 150 kg (330lb), would be launched into orbit beginning in 2018, with the rest staying on the ground until replacements were needed, said OneWeb, based in Britain’s Channel Islands.

Airbus said it would be a new approach to satellite production, with up to four being built per day.

Bankrolled in part by Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group and chipmaker Qualcomm, the project would cost between $1.5bn and $2bn, said OneWeb founder and chief executive Greg Wyler.

Airbus Defence and Space said it would build the first 10 satellites at its facility in Toulouse, France, before shifting production to the United States.

Several other companies were vying for the spacecraft contract including Thales Alenia Space, Space Systems/Loral, Lockheed Martin Corp’s Space Systems and OHB of Germany, the industry trade journal Aviation Week and Space Technology reported.

Some of OneWeb’s satellites would be launched by Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic, which is developing a low-cost, small satellite launcher and trying to put a suborbital passenger spaceship into operation.

Wyler declined to disclose how much Virgin and Qualcomm were investing in the project. As part of the deal, unveiled in January, Branson and Qualcomm Executive chairman Paul Jacobs joined OneWeb’s board of directors.

Before starting OneWeb Wyler co-founded the satellite venture O3b Networks and briefly worked at Google on another project to beam internet access from space. Wyler left Google in 2014 to work on his own satellite project, named WorldVu, which later became OneWeb.

Google, along with Fidelity, has since made a $1bn investment in another internet-via-satellite project being developed by California-based SpaceX.


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