OneWeb will soon begin delivering connectivity services to the northern regions of Earth after yesterday’s eighth launch of satellite clusters for this operator’s pioneering next-generation constellation that will provide global internet access anytime, anywhere.
Bringing the total number of spacecraft in low-Earth orbit to 254, this latest deployment put the spotlight on OneWeb’s 50/50 joint venture with Airbus – called Airbus OneWeb Satellites – which has completely reimagined the satellite design and production process. Airbus OneWeb Satellites has fully industrialised it, enabling hundreds of spacecraft to be built more rapidly – at a fraction of the cost and time it traditionally takes.
As design lead, Airbus challenged every assumption, revised the status quo and reformulated what people thought was possible – and as a result, the original assembly line was set up in Toulouse France and the Airbus OneWeb Satellites’ facilities in Florida’s Merritt Island in the U.S. can now produce two spacecraft each day (while traditional manufacturing approaches require 12-18 months to produce a single satellite).
Responsible and sustainable practices were integrated into the satellite and system design right from the earliest stages, with OneWeb spacecraft built to exceed all space debris mitigation standards – a key consideration as more and more projects are sent to space in the years to come.
Trust and teamwork
Airbus OneWeb Satellites combines Airbus’ engineering and technical expertise with OneWeb’s vision and strategy for market disruption, according to Guillaume Roelly, an Airbus Defence and Space electrical test/industrialisation engineer on the constellation final assembly line. Describing the arrangement, Roelly calls it a “partnership with a great deal of trust.”
He added: “This close relationship is evident, with the two companies sharing design, production and supply chain responsibilities and tasks.”
Completing the constellation
The latest orbiting of 36 satellites – which were lofted during a night-time mission from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome – positions OneWeb to fulfil its “Five to 50” goal of providing high-speed, low-latency communications solutions north of the 50th parallel by the end of 2021. This enables coverage over Northern Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic Seas.
Appropriately, the slogan for yesterday’s flight: “Hello North Pole!” was painted on the payload fairing of the Soyuz launcher that carried OneWeb’s satellites into space. During the Soyuz’ nearly four-hour mission, its 36 satellites were released in nine phases, to be followed by the spacecraft raising themselves to their operational orbit.
With the “Five to 50” ambition now achieved in terms of satellites orbited, Roelly said the focus is on completing the initial constellation so that OneWeb can begin delivering services worldwide in 2022.