LE BOURGET—Satellite Internet startup OneWeb Ltd. has selected Airbus Defense and Space to serve as an industrial partner in the design and production of a fleet of 900 small internet satellites, Airbus said June 15.

Design and production of the first 10 OneWeb satellites will be carried out at Airbus Defense and Space’s facilities in Toulouse, France, while series production will take place at a dedicated plant located in the United States. The company said each of the satellites is expected to weigh less than 150 kg (330 lb.) at launch, with the global satellite internet constellation to start launching in 2018.

“Teaming with OneWeb with a requirement to produce several small satellites each day has inspired us to develop innovative designs and processes that will dramatically lower the cost in large volumes for high-performance space applications,” said François Auque, head of space systems at Airbus Defense and Space. “Without doubt, this program is challenging but we’re ready for it because we have leveraged resources and expertise across the entire Airbus Group.”

Combining the division’s long history of building and launching space systems with the innovation and mass manufacturing techniques borrowed from the Airbus A350 production side of the company gives the team an advantage in delivering the OneWeb system, officials say.

“We look forward to working with Airbus Defense and Space in order to bring to bear the best resources around the globe for achieving affordable Internet access for everyone,” said Brian Holz, head of space systems at OneWeb.

Airbus beat Thales Alenia Space, Space Systems/Loral, Lockheed Martin Space Systems and OHB of Germany to win the partnership.
In May Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders said, “We can make an attractive proposition. We build hundreds of airplanes every year. Why wouldn’t we be able to also build hundreds of satellites?”

Enders also said OneWeb’s requirement that the satellites be produced in the United States is no problem. “It would allow us to increase our industrial footprint in the U.S.,” he said.

Led by former Google Executive and O3b Networks founder Greg Wyler, OneWeb is being bankrolled in part by Virgin Group and chip-maker Qualcomm. Since unveiling plans in January to build rival networks of hundreds, or even thousands, of Internet satellites in LEO, both OneWeb and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) have prompted comparisons with past satellite internet ventures that flopped. These include Teledesic and Skybridge, two well-financed companies whose visions of delivering high-speed broadband to the masses were thwarted by technical setbacks.