Space Web Plans To Link World To Internet

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Written By Mohsen Salami

Work has started on building a massive constellation of hundreds of satellites designed to deliver broadband and phone links to the entire planet.

OneWeb is partnering aerospace manufacturer Airbus in the mammoth task of building at least 900 satellites and sending them into orbit by 2025.

The partnership is opening production lines at factories in France and the USA aiming to output three satellites a shift.

To meet the demands of such a rigorous schedule, designers and engineers have had to scrap the normal top-quality mindset that demands the best components and materials.

Commercial and calculating

Airbus boss Tom Enders explained: “Everything in space traditionally has been gold-plated. It had to work perfectly, and include the most expensive materials.

“Here, we’ve had to go other ways, to be commercial and calculating according to the target cost because that is decisive in the whole business case for OneWeb.”

Each satellite is budgeted to cost less than $1 million, setting a real manufacturing challenge.

To put the satellites in orbit, OneWeb has block booked more than 20 Russian space flights that will toss up to 36 orbiters above the Earth at a time.

OneWeb hopes to extend a decent broadband and mobile phone signal to the world.

The satellites will give blanket coverage and aim is to connect every school to the internet. Other aspirations include helping rescue services keep in contact during disasters, linking doctors and hospitals and other humanitarian projects.

New standards for industry

To get to the first stage has involved jumping through the usual business start-up financial and regulatory hoops and then some as issues about launching satellites and disposing of space debris once they reach the end of a useful life must be considered.

Hardware and software controls are built into each unit to make bringing them back to Earth easier – and every unit will have a grab bar for a small space vehicle to hold on to if descent proves stubborn.

Brian Holz, CEO of the OneWeb/Airbus venture, said his ambition is to set new standards in debris mitigation.

“We’ve put extra hardware into the system to improve the reliability of that de-orbit process. We’re also committing to put a small adapter device on to each spacecraft that will allow those spacecraft, in the small probability that one of them dies on the way down, to be grabbed by a small chase vehicle and pulled out of orbit,” he said.