Airbus OneWeb makes the first step into the plan of giving millions of people in remote and rural areas access to high-speed internet beamed down from space. Airbus announced that a rocket carrying six satellites built by Airbus SE and partner OneWeb was due to blast off from French Guiana. The Russia-built Soyuz rocket was set for liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana, carrying satellites made by the Airbus-OneWeb joint venture called OneWeb Satellites in Toulouse, France.
A successful launch could mark a new era in the satellite services industry, with companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, LeoSat Enterprises, and Canada’s Telesat enabling data networks with hundreds or even thousands of tiny satellites that orbit closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites – a radical shift made possible by leaps in laser technology and computer chips.
The launch may presage a boom in demand for launch services, with a handful of venture-backed rocket companies developing smaller boosters to deploy the smaller satellites at lower cost.
“We are looking in the next five years at potentially 10,000 satellites needing to be launched and we don’t have the launch capacity at this moment to do that”, aerospace consultancy Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres said.
OneWeb has raised more than $2 billion from investors including Airbus, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group, Qualcomm Inc and SoftBank. It aims to have global broadband coverage in 2021 from about 650 satellites.
The plan is to launch more than 30 satellites at a time every month, starting as early as September so its constellation is nearly 25 percent complete by year-end, a person with direct knowledge of the project said.
But there are also others, not far behind Airbus. Telesat, backed by Loral Space & Communications Inc, is targeting 2022 for broadband services from nearly 300 satellites. LeoSat Enterprises says it has already signed more than $1 billion in pre-launch provisional agreements for secure data transfers for global banks, telecoms providers and governments beginning in 2022.