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Airbus to build satellites for OneWeb's internet everywhere

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Jun 16, 2015, 0:30 UTC

Sen—OneWeb Ltd, which plans to operate a constellation of satellites that provide high-speed internet access across the entire planet, has selected Airbus Defence and Space to design and manufacture the satellites.

Under the contract, announced today at the Paris Air Show, Airbus Defence and Space will design and make 900 of the small satellites. Each satellite will weigh just 150 kilograms. The first ten will be built at Airbus Defence and Space’s facilities in Toulouse, France. Thereafter a dedicated plant in the U.S. will be set up to manufacture four satellites a day.

“We have worked with Airbus Space and Defence to streamline the manufacturing process to the point that several satellites can be produced each day. This will redefine the cost structure for satellites, enabling rapid iteration and development of space related technologies,” said Brian Holz, Head of Space Systems at OneWeb, in a statement.

François Auque, Head of Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space, said in a statement: "Teaming with OneWeb with a requirement to produce several small satellites each day has inspired us to develop innovative designs and processes that will dramatically lower the cost in large volumes for high-performance space applications."

Once in orbit, the satellites will communicate with terminals back on Earth which will emit LTE, 3G and WiFi connectivity.

OneWeb hopes to launch the first tranche of the satellites into low Earth orbit in 2018, with the aim of developing a constellation that can ultimately provide high speed WiFi internet access everywhere. The company plans for the internet access to be affordable.

OneWeb's investors include the Virgin Group and Qualcomm. Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson is a board member, alongside OneWeb founder and CEO Greg Wyler and Qualcomm Chairman Dr Paul Jacobs.

OneWeb is not alone in its ambition to build a truly global internet. SpaceX, the commercial space company founded by Elon Musk, is also planning to develop a satellite constellation to provide internet access everywhere on the planet. Internet giant Google along with Fidelity earlier this year took a $1 billion stake in SpaceX.

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Artist illustration of a OneWeb satellite. Image credit: Airbus Defence and Space/OneWeb