European defence and space manufacturer Airbus has landed a contract to design and build 900 satellites for the OneWeb satellite constellation.
The satellites, weighing less than 150kg each, will provide direct Internet access to users in remote areas that still lack connectivity.
The project, a brainchild of American engineer and entrepreneur Greg Wyler, hopes to see its first satellites in space by 2018.
“This partnership is a fantastic new chapter in our space story,” said François Auque, Head of Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space. “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.”
Airbus, the world’s second-largest space technology maker, will build a state-of-the-art high-volume manufacturing facility to cater for the project. The new plant will be located in the US, but will only enter operations after the first ten satellites have been successfully produced and tested at Airbus’ existing facilities in Toulouse, France.
“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.”
Some three billion people around the world are still living without regular Internet access.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has previously bought a substantial stake in the OneWeb constellation, which will be launched aboard Launcher One, a light rocket currently being developed by Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic hopes to commence test flying the vehicle in 2016.