European firm Airbus Group said it will build about 900 satellites for privately-owned OneWeb Ltd, which aims to provide high-speed, space-based Internet access to billions of people, the company said on Monday.
700 of the satellites, which weigh less than 150 kg, will be launched into orbit in 2018. The rest will stay on the ground until replacements are needed, said OneWeb, which based in Britain’s Channel Islands.
Airbus builds satellites for OneWeb
The funding comes in part from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and chipmaker Qualcomm, costing between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, according to OneWeb founder and CEO Greg Wyler.
Airbus Defense and Space will build the first 10 at its facility in Toulouse, France, before moving production to a site in the USA.
Other companies were vying for the 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 claims.
Some of OneWeb’s satellites will be flown by Virgin Galactic, which is working on developing a low-cost satellite launcher, and a suborbital passenger spaceship.
Wyler has not disclosed how much Virgin and Qualcomm are investing. As part of the deal that was unveiled in January, Branson and Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs joined OneWeb’s board of directors.
Prior to One Web, Wyler co-founded O3b Networks and also worked at Google on a project to beam the Internet from space. Wyler left Google in 2014 to work on his own satellite project called WorldVu which then became OneWeb.
Google, and Fidelity, have since made a $1 billion investment in another Internet satellite project being developed by SpaceX.
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.