By Ben Sullivan
Airbus is set to build a fleet of 900 microsatellites that will beam Internet access down to Earth.
Airbus was selected by OneWeb, the firm behind the satellite constellation program that is set to launch by early 2018.
“This partnership is a fantastic new chapter in our space story,” said François Auque, head of Space Systems at Airbus Defense and Space. “Without doubt, this program is challenging, but we’re ready for it.”
Design and production of the first 10 satellites will be carried out at Airbus Defense and Space’s facilities in Toulouse, with full production then moved to the United States.
The project is being partly funded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and U.S. chip maker Qualcomm.
“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.
But OneWeb and Airbus are not the only companies involved in Internet satellite plans. British satellite firm Inmarsat plans to launch the “world’s first” globally available high speed mobile Internet service in the second half of 2015. Elon Musk’s space venture SpaceX also filed an application to the FCC in June to launch Internet-beaming satellites.
However, one of the first companies to announce plans to use Internet satellites to connect the world has reportedly pulled out of the race. Facebook was set to use satellites in its Internet/org initiative, but this month a source said that Facebook’s plans have been shelved.