The growing number of satellite constellations is opening exciting new opportunities for everything from improved connectivity and communications to enhanced observation and security – with Airbus taking a lead enabler role through its small, capable spacecraft that are made on a digitised production line.

In 2016, Airbus teamed up with OneWeb to form a joint venture called Airbus OneWeb Satellites.  As a 50/50 joint venture it combined the best of Airbus’ space-related engineering and technical expertise with the vision and market disruption of OneWeb, and in the process redefined how satellites are built – streamlining the traditional manufacturing cycle from years to an output of two per day, while reducing the mass from several tonnes to just 150 kg. 

This expertise wasonce again brought to the fore last weekend with the 18th launch of satellites for the OneWeb constellation, bringing the total number in orbit to over 600 and completing the initial buildout. This is a key milestone in OneWeb’s mission to deliver connectivity anytime, anywhere as these final satellites will enable it to offer services globally later this year.  OneWeb is among the first low-Earth orbit operators to complete its constellation for global coverage and is already setting its sights on a second generation system.

Innovative and affordable satellite platforms

The OneWeb constellation was only the first step.  Using the industrial knowhow developed over the past six years, Airbus is able to offer an innovative and affordable satellite platform which is tailored for such high-performance space applications as connectivity, communications, and machine-to-machine (M2M) services, along with Earth observation, reconnaissance, and maritime/aviation relay.

“Airbus is bringing a true revolution for the satellite manufacturing industry, benefitting from our ability to optimise the entire satellite ecosystem – from payloads and platforms to end-to-end space systems,” said Jean Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus. “The real impact will be felt in what these systems can enable and their ability to change the world. Airbus is proud to be part of this story.”

In America, Airbus US is providing its next generation satellite platform to Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Space Development Agency’s prototype military data and connectivity constellation. The platforms will expand the current Airbus satellite design, providing more power and accommodating a larger payload in a modular solution. This will enable Airbus to offer a scalable 300-500 kg. spacecraft bus, as well as for future U.S. government missions.   

Airbus is also supporting the ‘new space’ economy as a supplier to Loft Orbital – a space sector startup – which is creating a ‘satellite as a service’ business model. These platforms will be produced by Airbus for Loft Orbital, who see this innovative platform as an enabler to meet a wide range of missions and applications while offering even longer lifetimes in orbit. 

Constellations are also a hot topic in Europe with the recent announcement that the European Union is pressing ahead with its own multi-orbit constellation which will act as a vector of European sovereignty for secure connectivity and resilience in an increasingly contested world - and Airbus intends to harness its end-to-end system expertise in shaping this future.

Oneweb Cleanroom - © Airbus OneWeb Satellites