OneWeb Satellites venture kicks off assembly line in France

OneWeb satellite (OneWeb)
OneWeb Satellites' first order includes the production of 900 communications satellites for OneWeb's LEO satellite fleet. (OneWeb)

OneWeb appears to be wasting no time. Less than a week after the FCC approved OneWeb’s request to deploy a global network of 720 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, OneWeb Satellites inaugurated its assembly line in Toulouse, France, to begin end-to-end validation, testing and integration of its first satellites.

The facility will lay the framework for a larger two-line OneWeb Satellites factory near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. OneWeb Satellites is OneWeb's joint venture with Airbus.

After undergoing a set of tests, the initial 10 pilot and Toulouse-built satellites will become the first of OneWeb's fleet. And that’s coming faster than one might expect. The first satellites to come from the Toulouse factory are set to be launched in March 2018.

"We have just about nine months until the first of our fleet launches into orbit," said Greg Wyler, founder and chairman of OneWeb, in a press release. "Then, if all goes well, we will begin the world's largest launch campaign, sending new satellites up every 21 days, and building not just a fleet but a digital bridge to enable affordable broadband access for the billions of unconnected around the world."

Indeed, Airbus CEO Tom Enders said never before have high-quality satellites been produced at such little cost, at such a fast pace and in such high quantities. As such, “OneWeb is truly a transformational project—not just for Airbus but for the space industry as a whole," he said in the release.

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OneWeb has said that starting in 2019, it will enable high-speed access for all of Alaska where homes, tribal health centers and tens of thousands of residents are without adequate broadband access. Within its first two years of service, OneWeb plans to make significant progress toward closing the digital divide in the U.S.

According to OneWeb majority owner SoftBank, the company will eventually provide inexpensive internet to up to 1 billion subscribers worldwide via download speeds of up to 200 Mbps, upload speeds of up to 50 Mbps and lower latency than existing services.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted last week that after OneWeb filed its petition, several other companies did the same or applied for a U.S. license in the same spectrum bands. Indeed, SpaceX, Boeing and ViaSat all have designs on launching new satellite constellations.

“These applications are being reviewed by the International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts,” Pai said. “We hope to approve many more constellations because we know that the more companies compete, the more consumers win.”