Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, announced June 15 that it has been selected by OneWeb Ltd. as its industrial partner for the design and manufacturing of its fleet of microsatellites. This initial production of 900 satellites, each weighing less than 150 kg, is planned for launch into low Earth orbit beginning in 2018 to deliver affordable Internet access globally.
“This partnership is a fantastic new chapter in our space story. 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, Head of Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space. “Without doubt, this programme is challenging but we’re ready for it because we have leveraged resources and expertise across the entire Airbus Group. The agility and flexibility of ‘Team Airbus’ enables us to continue to be a major player in the rapidly evolving global space market.”
“Combining the innovation and large volume manufacturing techniques from its A350 aircraft production, with a rich history of building extremely reliable high performance space systems, Team Airbus will help us deliver the OneWeb system on time, providing reliable connectivity for our customers,” said Brian Holz, Head of Space Systems at OneWeb. “We look forward to working with Airbus Defence and Space in order to bring to bear the best resources around the globe for achieving affordable Internet access for everyone.”
Design and production of the first 10 satellites will be carried out at Airbus Defence and Space’s facilities in Toulouse (France). Full series production will take place at a dedicated plant located in the U.S.A.
Bankrolled in part by Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group and chipmaker Qualcomm, the project would cost between $1.5bn and $2bn, according to OneWeb founder and chief executive Greg Wyler. Some of OneWeb’s satellites would be launched by Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic, as alternate payload for his spaceship carrier WhiteKnightTwo.