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New satellites to extend internet access to billions

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Jan 18, 2015, 2:31 UTC

Sen—A new company called OneWeb Ltd plans to deploy the largest ever constellation of satellites to make high speed internet and telephony available to billions of people who do not currently have access.

Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne, which is being designed to put small payloads into orbit at a low cost, will be used to launch the satellites. The plan is for the constellation to comprise 648 low-weight, low orbit satellites.

OneWeb, the vision of founder Greg Wyler, has attracted The Virgin Group and Qualcomm Incorporated as principle investors, and Sir Richard Branson has agreed to join the OneWeb Board of Directors alongside Mr Wyler and Qualcomm Chairman Dr Paul Jacobs.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, as of the end of 2014, more than half the world’s population lacks internet access—this new satellite constellation could dramatically improve that figure, bringing fresh opportunities to the billions of people.

Sir Richard Branson, writing about the project on his blog, said: "Imagine the possibilities for the three billion people in hard to reach areas who are currently not connected. This project could change lives, transform communities and have a huge positive impact upon the world."

OneWeb's vision is that people who don’t currently have access to proper teaching will be able to receive educations, and people who want to create jobs will be able to develop new businesses connecting with the rest of the world. 


Artist illustration of Virgin Galactic LauncherOne in action. Image credit: Virgin Galactic

Thanks to the recent advances in Cubesats and microsatellites, commercial satellite start-ups, universities, schools and small businesses can put their own satellites into space. But small satellites cannot truly change the world without cost-effective, frequent rides to space.

LauncherOne is an orbital launch vehicle dedicated to the small satellite market with the aim to keep prices low while accommodating customer needs for launch availability and flexibility. By the time the second constellation is developed, the company will have launched more satellites than are currently operational in the sky.

LauncherOne will be a two-stage rocket, built using advanced composite structures, and powered by LOX/RP-1 liquid rocket engines. Each LauncherOne mission will be capable of delivering as much as 225 kilograms (500 pounds) to a low inclination Low Earth Orbit or 120 kilograms (265 pounds) to a high-altitude Sun-Synchronous Orbit, for a price of less than $10M.

The first test launch of LauncherOne is expected in 2016.