Airbus and Softbank-backed Oneweb to launch first satellites into space

 
Emily Nicolle
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There will be more than 900 of the joint venture's satellites around the world (Source: Oneweb)

An Arianespace rocket carrying six satellites made by Airbus and Oneweb is scheduled for lift-off tonight, marking the joint venture's first launch since they teamed up last year.


The launch is set to go ahead at 9:37pm GMT from the European Space Port in Kourou, French Guiana. It was initially scheduled for the same time last night, however the launch was axed due to a technical fault in the rocket.

The six satellites will form the first part of Oneweb's constellation above Earth, which will improve access to high-speed broadband from anywhere on the planet. Acting as a global communications network in space, Oneweb has a launch target of 650 satellites by 2021 before expanding to more than 900 satellites over time.

Read more: UK Space Agency fires £18m into Softbank's Oneweb for satellite network

The satellites are currently built by the joint venture, named Oneweb Satellites, in Toulouse. However from next month, the operation will move to a purpose-built warehouse in Florida valued at $85m (£63.7m).


Oneweb chief commercial officer Nicolas Zibell told City A.M. in Barcelona that the joint venture, named Oneweb Satellites, will be building more than two satellites per day at the new site.

"It will be the first time we’re going to enable mass-production of satellites," he said, noting that in most cases it takes engineers months just to build one satellite.

"Not all satellite companies are looking for mass-production, but it will definitely give us a significant advantage when it comes to launching constellations and having the capability to cover the globe with satellites in a few years."

With 5G on the horizon, Zibell said the constellation will offer carriers and telecoms partners the ability to extend their networks across the globe with ease, serving homes and businesses as well as moving planes and ships.

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The news follows an £18m investment into Oneweb's project last week by the UK Space Agency. Oneweb has raised more than $2bn in funding to date, taking investment from the likes of Softbank, Coca-cola, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson and Qualcomm.

The firm, which is London-headquartered, will be hiring more than 200 staff at its White City offices to support the project from the UK. Oneweb also today announced it has closed its two first commercial deals for the satellites with telecoms firms Talia and Intermatica.

Zidell told City A.M. that Oneweb is on track to have launched more than 25 per cent of its satellite network by the end of this year.

He declined to say whether the firm has contingency plans in place with another potential US shutdown on the horizon. During January's shutdown, some rocket launches were delayed due to restrictions on funding for the US Air Force.