OneWeb Launches First Satellites for Its Orbital Constellation
Matthew Greenwood posted on March 28, 2019 |
Company aims to bring Internet connectivity to rural and remote areas around the world.

OneWeb has the ambitious goal of becoming one of the world’s largest Internet service providers—allowing billions more people access to the Internet.

The company recently took a significant step forward in reaching that objective, launching six satellites into orbit—the first parts of a constellation that could eventually reach nearly 2,000 satellites. Starting around October, OneWeb expects to launch about 30 more satellites a month as it builds up to an initial constellation of 650 units in low Earth orbit.

The satellites will beam down high-speed Internet service to antennas placed on everything from planes to cruise ships to schools, emergency centers and homes. OneWeb already has antennas in several countries, including Italy, Norway and Canada.

The constellation would provide Internet access to remote areas all over the planet that are beyond the reach of fiber-optic cables.

“The ultimate goal is to connect every school in the world and bridge the digital divide,” said Greg Wyler, OneWeb’s founder and CEO. “We’re bringing connectivity and enabling it for people around the world, and in rural populations.”

Airbus OneWeb satellites.

OneWeb’s satellites are about the size of a refrigerator, weighing less than 150kg each. They also feature fewer electrical connections between subsystems than is typical of today’s satellites, leading to a reduced chance of malfunction or need for maintenance. The first models were manufactured at the OneWeb satellites facility at Airbus headquarters in France, with the rest to be built at the company’s new satellite factory in Florida.

The plan requires that the satellites be mass-produced—something never attempted before. “A requirement to produce several small satellites a day has inspired us to develop innovative designs and processes,” said partner Airbus.” We set up an assembly line that is completely different from classic geostationary satellite assembly labs and we organize a procurement supply chain that is unlike anything the space sector has ever seen before.”

While building Internet infrastructure in orbit is difficult, expensive and risky, it’s clear that investors are confident in the project. Shortly after launching the satellites, OneWeb pulled in $1.25 billion in new investment funding, bringing the total to $3.4 billion. New investors like SoftBank, Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm and the Government of Rwanda join Virgin Group, Coca-Cola and Airbus in funding the initiative.

With its first launch and a successful round of funding, OneWeb has significant momentum. “It’s a huge step forward for space, a step forward for the world,” Wyler said.

Read more about the growth of interconnected satellite networks at Iridium Completes Historic $3 Billion Satellite Constellation Upgrade.

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