OneWeb takes pole-position in global satellite Internet race

Following the announcement of a joint venture with Airbus Group to build up to 900 small satellites, OneWeb loudly announced attraction of half-billion dollars funding and acquisition of more than 60 space launches.

On June 25 OneWeb, which is building a global communications system to create affordable broadband services, announced it has raised $500 million of funding from a group of leading international companies, including Airbus Group, Bharti Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Qualcomm, The Coca-Cola Company, Virgin Group, and Totalplay, a Grupo Salinas Company.

Executives of OneWeb and companies that have invested in it on a group photo. Credit: Virgin Group
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This funding will allow OneWeb, formerly called WorldVu Satellites, to further develop key technologies of its global satellite constellation to enable affordable broadband services for rural and underdeveloped locations. The planned network will provide unprecedented speeds and low latency access to ships, planes, trains and oil platforms, while providing seamless interoperability with Intelsat's fleet of Ku-band satellites, PR Newswire informs.

In its press-release Intelsat announced that it will make a minority share investment of $25 million in OneWeb. The companies will also collaborate to develop hybrid LEO/GEO end-user access terminals. Hughes informed that, along with financial investment by its parent company, EchoStar, the company will play a particularly important role by developing the ground system for OneWeb, including gateways and terminals.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, which also invested in OneWeb, in an interview to Business Standard said that he “will be engaging with ISRO so that they could also be part of it [OneWeb project] and do launches”.

Artist's concept of OneWeb user terminal. Credit: OneWeb
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Ten days ago, during the International Paris Air Show, OneWeb surprisingly announced partnership with Airbus Group to build a fleet of 648 spacecraft plus spares, which will equal to near 900 satellites, each weighing less than 150 kg. They were expected to be launched into a near polar orbit starting since 2017.

OneWeb expects to place satellites in 20 orbital planes at an altitude of about 1,200 km. They would connect to small user terminals on Earth, which would act as hubs, linking phones and computers. The system, once fully operational reportedly by 2019, will bring more than 10 Tbps of new capacity to rural areas around the globe.

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 US. It was reported that, once the production facility hits its full run rate, each satellite will be produced for around $500,000.

Artist's rendering of a planned OneWeb small satellite. Credit: OneWeb
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If then the intrigue of which launch services provider is lucky enough to orbit that unprecedentedly huge satellite constellation existed, now it all has become clear. During the dedicated press-conference in London OneWeb announced acquisition of 21 launches of Soyuz from Arianespace, and 39 space missions of LauncherOne from Virgin Galactic.

In a press-release, Arianespace detailed that the contract foresees 21 Soyuz launches, plus an option for 5 additional Soyuz and three Ariane 6 missions. Arianespace will use Soyuz launch pads in Guiana Space Center, Baikonur and other Russia's launch pads to ensure correct orbit and timely deployment. Reportedly a Soyuz rocket will be capable to launch 32 OneWeb satellites at a time. Most of Soyuz launches will take place from Baikonur.

Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, noted that this was the first order for new European Ariane 6 launcher.

Greg Wyler of OneWeb, Stéphane Israël of Arianespace, and Richard Branson, trying to remove Israël's tie. Credit: Arianespace
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The deal between OneWeb and Arianespace, estimated between $1-2 billion, was possible because of wide range of launch bases. OneWeb founder Greg Wyler said that, given the required launch rhythm, the prospect of having a launch failure shut down launch operations at a given launch pad was something OneWeb wanted to avoid at all costs, SpaceNews reports. Notably, according to Russian media, Vostochny spaceport will be used for OneWeb satellite launches too.

In a press-release of Virgin Galactic it is stated that beyond the firm contract for 39 LauncherOne missions, the agreement provides OneWeb with options for 100 additional launches. Such good news for Virgin Galactic obviously related to the fact that earlier this year the Richard Branson's company, along with Qualcomm Inc., already announced investment in OneWeb.

"The dream of fully bridging the digital divide is on track to be a reality in 2019. Together with our committed and visionary founding shareholders we have the key elements in place: regulatory, technology, launches, satellites, as well as commercial operators in over 50 countries and territories. We are committed to solving one of the world's biggest problems - enabling affordable broadband Internet access for everyone..." Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb

Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb, has history in a satellite business. With his partner Steve Collar they founded O3b Networks, which stands for the 'Other 3 Billion' (of people not having the Internet accessibility). Currently O3b has a fleet of 12 medium-Earth orbiting telecommunications spacecraft, and is close to be purchased by a leading satellite fleet operator SES of Luxemburg.

Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb
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