SEATTLE/PARIS (Reuters) – A rocket carrying six satellites built by Airbus SE and partner OneWeb was due to blast off from French Guiana on Wednesday, the first step in a plan to millions of people in remote and rural areas access to high-speed internet from space.
FILE PHOTO: A scale model of an Airbus OneWeb satellite and its solar panels are pictured as Airbus announces annual results in Blagnac, near Toulouse, France, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo
A successful launch could mark a new era in the satellite services industry, with companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, LeoSat Companies, and Canada’s Telesat to enable data networks with hundreds or even thousands of small satellites in an orbit closer to the Earth than traditional communications satellites – a radical shift made possible by leaps in technology of the laser and the computer chips.
The start of what lucia saw a boom in the demand for launch services, with a handful of venture-backed rocket companies, the development of smaller boosters to deploy the smaller satellites at lower cost.
“We are looking for in the next five years, at a potential of 10,000 satellites need to be launched and we don’t have the launch capacity at the moment to do that,” aerospace consultancy Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres said.
The Russia-built Soyuz rocket was set for launch from Kourou, French Guiana, at 6:37 pm (2137 GMT), carrying satellites by the Airbus-OneWeb joint venture called OneWeb Satellites in Toulouse, France.
OneWeb and others aim to expand the availability and the speed of the satellite-based internet, compared to the existing providers, such as Hughes Network Systems, the network in a higher-altitude geostationary orbit. Hughes is also an investor in OneWeb and help build the capacity of its ground infrastructure.
OneWeb has raised more than $2 billion from investors, including Airbus, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group, Qualcomm Inc and SoftBank. The goal is to provide a global broadband coverage in 2021 from about 650 satellites.
OneWeb plans to start with the launch of more than 30 satellites at a time each month starting in September, so her zodiac sign is nearly 25 percent complete by the end of the year, a person with direct knowledge of the project said.
Other companies say they are not far behind. Telesat, supported by the Loral Space & Communications Inc., is the target of 2022 for broadband services of nearly 300 satellites.
Washington, D. C.-based LeoSat Enterprises says it has already signed more than $1 billion in pre-launch preliminary agreements for secure data transfer, for global banks, telecom providers and governments begin in 2022.
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Reuters reported a major shake-up of last year, SpaceX’s Starlink project, which Chief Executive Elon Musk has said is of crucial importance as a source of financing for its wider space transport ambitions, but is confronted with challenges in development and testing.
A person with direct knowledge of the program, said SpaceX drove in the direction of a first “production start” with money-making satellites in mid-2019.
A SpaceX official said that the first batch of satellites were at that time is produced and the internal launch objectives were on the job, but the company has not announced a launch date.
The OneWeb project has forced Airbus to think about the way builds the satellites, the overhauling of a careful, tailor-made and effort to introduce industrial methods and speed with the help of assembly lines and automation.
The two companies plan to open what they say is the world’s first satellite of mass production in the factory at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in March for $85 million. The production will ramp up to 15 satellites per week at a cost of $1 million per satellite, executives say.
OneWeb Satellites Chief Executive Officer Tony Gingiss told Reuters the goal is to create two to three satellites a day in the early summer.
“That is revolutionary in an industry where the cost of $50 million to build a satellite, and usually it takes months and a team of engineers to do,” Gingiss said.
OneWeb has ground stations in Canada, Italy and Norway, which allow the satellites to communicate with Earth, and has signed on for a collaboration with Qualcomm to develop the technology that links on the internet from the space to different users, such as airlines.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Sonya Hepinstall