Airbus Group is set to design and build about 900 satellites for privately-owned OneWeb, which aims to provide high-speed Internet to billions around the world. OneWeb founder and CEO Greg Wyler said the project is expected to cost about $2 billion, according to Reuters.
Airbus announced that 700 satellites would be launched into orbit starting from 2018, with the rest being stored in case replacements were needed. Airbus plans to manufacture up to four of the lightweight satellites each day. The OneWeb project, partially backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and San Diego-based chipmaker Qualcomm, is competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is backed by Google, to be the first to create a constellation of satellites that would offer widespread coverage to areas of the planet that have for years gone without access to the Internet.
“Think of OneWeb as a global communications provider that happens to use satellites," Wyler told FierceWireless Tech in March. "We are solving the rural connectivity problem by creating an easy on-ramp."
Although satellite-based Internet is currently in use, high-orbit satellites that handle the data slow down Internet access speeds. By contrast, OneWeb and SpaceX’s programs aim to place the satellites in low earth orbit, which should reduce lag and enhance connectivity and speed.
“This partnership is a fantastic new chapter in our space story,” François Auque, head of space systems at Airbus Defence and Space, said in a statement.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic -- which is working on a suborbital passenger craft -- is also developing a small, low-cost satellite launcher, which is also set to launch several of OneWeb’s satellites.