When car maker Henry Ford created the pioneering assembly line for his iconic Model T in the early 1900s, it marked a revolution in industrialisation. Today, a major new industrialisation advancement has been made… for an “out of this world” application.
Airbus OneWeb Satellites – the Airbus joint venture with OneWeb, a global high-speed communications operator – was faced with a modern-day challenge not unlike the one that confronted Henry Ford a century earlier: to fundamentally rethink how satellites are built, thereby transitioning from tailor-made spacecraft for each mission to an approach of commoditisation.
In realising this goal, an international team was brought together with expertise from the space, aviation and automotive sectors, as well as other industries. The solution: a streamlined supply chain, with each supplier mass producing its assigned parts, which are then provided to a state-of-the-art factory incorporating the first ever high-volume, high-speed assembly lines for satellites.
The results are spectacular, and they underscore Airbus’ philosophy of NextSpace – taking a future-oriented focus for the very best services and technologies that can be developed to connect, protect, inform, explore and direct our lives on Earth.
NextSpace comes to the final assembly line
With Airbus OneWeb Satellites, spacecraft can be produced at less than 10% of the cost and at a production rate of up to two per day. What’s more the design of these mass-produced spacecraft can continuously evolve for other customers - as demonstrated by the recent announcement with Loft Orbital – shortening acquisition timelines to less than a year while dramatically lowering costs in large volumes for high-performance space applications.
Airbus’ NextSpace approach is evident throughout the production site. The paperless factory uses digital twin technology, auto-transfer vehicles, geo-localization and smart tools with inspection cameras for end-to-end quality.
Nearly 400 mass-produced satellites in orbit – sustainably
These ultra-modern production lines have proved their worth: to date, a total of 394 satellites have been launched for OneWeb – creating one of the most complete satellite constellations in orbit, with 60% of the total fleet now circling the Earth. And because NextSpace is sustainable space, they are doing it in a responsible way: every one of these constellation satellites has been designed not to interfere with astronomers’ observations and to leave little or no trace upon re-entry when deorbited at end of life.
But right now the focus is on launch number 13, since another 34 satellites are on the launch pad, awaiting lift-off later this week!
With OneWeb’s connectivity driving positive change for greater inclusion, quality of life and prosperity, Airbus continues its role as a visionary in the space adventure, connecting the unconnected faster and paving the way for what’s next.