OneWeb, a British Channel Islands-based startup backed by Virgin Group and Qualcomm, picked the Toulouse, France-based Airbus unit from among an array of top European and satellite manufacturers in a competition to build the biggest-ever fleet of spacecraft. Design and production of the first 10 satellites will be carried out at Airbus Defense and Space’s Toulouse plant, while full series production will take place in the U.S.
The satellites are planned for launch into low Earth orbit beginning in 2018 to deliver “affordable Internet access globally,” the companies said in announcing the space Internet contract June 16 at the Paris Air Show. Some 700 satellites will comprise the communications galaxy, with the balance of the sats shelved as backups.
Financial details weren’t released, but reports place project cost at $1.5 billion-$2 billion. The companies plan to form a joint venture to oversee the work.
“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,” said François Auque, Airbus’ head of space systems.
Brian Holz, head of space systems at OneWeb, lauded Airbus’ “innovation and large-volume manufacturing techniques.”
Various companies have been studying the feasibility of getting involved in space-based Internet communications. Those include Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which last month filed documents with the FCC indicating it aims to put a whopping 4,000 Internet-communications satellites into space.