Image Credit: OneWeb
OneWeb has announced what is being described as the largest single launch order ever placed. The order, which will eventually cover some 900 of its planned fleet of broadband internet satellites in Low Earth Orbit, will be split between the Arianespace marketed version of the Soyuz booster, and Virgin Galactic’s much smaller LauncherOne, which is under development. It should amount to well over $1 billion.
The news comes on the heels of June 15th announcement that after considering 5 different proposals, it is partnering in a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space to design and manufacture the first 900 satellites. As such, it comes as no surprise that Arianespace won the largest portion of the overall orders by number of spacecraft launched, just as Sir Richard Branson’s position on the Board of OneWeb, as well as prior statements from the Virgin Galactic founder, left little doubt that LauncherOne, which will be carried to altitude by the Virgin’s WhiteKnight Two aircraft would be receiving quite a few orders as well.
The launch order comes as part of an announcement that OneWeb has raised $500 million in funding from a diverse group of investors including Airbus, Hughes, Qualcom, Intelsat and Coca-Cola. Sentimentalists among us can only hope that the latter leads to an internet for everyone advertisement reprising Coke’s iconic “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercial. The lyrics will almost write themselves,
In a broader sense, the cluster of recent announcements serve as a sort of shock and awe campaign which indicates that despite warnings of irrational exuberance from some quarters, OneWeb and its mega constellation should be here to stay. On another note, the close tie with Airbus and Arianespace sets the stage for possible Clash of the Titans with SpaceX and its own recently announced satellite broadband project.
One noteworthy difference will be interesting to track over the coming years. Any announcement of a large constellation of satellites is also an opportunity to advance the state of the art in launch vehicles. Consequently, it is noteworthy that the OneWeb spacecraft will be orbited by both an updated version of the oldest launch vehicle in existence, as well as a new vehicle which has yet to be demonstrated. Both are fully expendable. SpaceX on the other hand, appears to be banking on both an advanced satellite design as well as a reusable launch vehicle in the Falcon 9R to support its own efforts. It should prove to be a very interesting horse race.