Global satellite internet company OneWeb has been awarded £18 million in UK Space Agency funding, via the European Space Agency (ESA), to aid the development of its satellite constellation as it gears up for its first ever launch on February 26.
The OneWeb network will initially be comprised of approximately 650 Ku-band satellites operating in low Earth orbit, with plans to scale to more than 900 satellites over time. The scale of the project dwarfs any existing satellite communications network – for comparison, Iridium’s recently completed NEXT network (also in low Earth orbit, but operating in L-band) provides global coverage using 66 satellites.
The satellites are being designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space through a joint venture with OneWeb, with each satellite weighing less than 200kg. The first launch will send ten satellites into orbit, and once those are in place OneWeb says it will ramp up the schedule to launch more than 30 satellites at a time on a monthly basis, starting later in 2019.
The company aims to begin customer demos in of the satellite system in 2020, with global coverage beginning in 2021. The full network is planned to be in place in 2027.
OneWeb is headquartered in London and will employ up to 200 staff at its White City offices, hence the UK’s investment.
“Providing access to people everywhere has been the mission and vision of OneWeb since the very beginning. We will be able to realise this vision in part because of important partnerships like this one with the UK Space Agency, ESA and a range of other important partners including our European and Canadian partners,” said Adrian Steckel, CEO, OneWeb.
“Thanks to this support, we will focus together on next generation technologies that will be game changers for realising global 5G connectivity.”
“We are excited about the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to develop novel automation techniques that could help manage our constellation in future and ensure we do so safely and responsibly so that we can protect space for future generations.”
The European Space Agency is independent of the European Union, and hosts its European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) in Harwell, Oxfordshire, UK.