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Airbus Rejects Idea of Moving OneWeb Satellite Manufacture to UK UPDATE

Thursday, August 27th, 2020 (8:56 am) - Score 3,638
oneweb_leo_satellite_factory

The Head of Airbus US Space Systems, Debra Facktor, appears to have flatly rejected the idea that construction of OneWeb‘s new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellites could in the future be moved from their $85m (£64m) facility in Florida (USA) and shifted over to the United Kingdom.

Last month saw the UK government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global table a successful £800m ($1bn) bid to rescue the British-registered space company OneWeb from bankruptcy, which will see the UK invest £400m ($500m) in order to help build a new global network of LEO satellites for ultrafast broadband and possibly GPS (here). Some 74 LEOs have already been launched but they’ll need 648 for limited global coverage.

NOTE: Airbus owns 50% of OneWeb Satellites (manufacturing base) as part of a joint venture.

At the time the British Secretary of State for Business, Alok Sharma, suggested that the acquisition would create the “opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK,” although no specific plans were revealed to clarify precisely how the minister saw that happening. Previous reports had suggested that the Government might attempt to move satellite manufacturing to home soil.

Despite the turmoil of recent months, Airbus has continued to build the compact LEOs at their Florida facility (much of this is an automated process). This week a new interview on SpaceNews revealed that Airbus are also preparing to ramp-up production. Suffice to say there seems to be little expectation of a major shift to the UK.

Debra Facktor, Head of Airbus US Space Systems, said:

“We are committed to the U.S. We are in the space market and we’ve invested in Florida, so keeping our Florida operations is absolutely our intent and our plan.”

In fairness any attempt to shift production to the UK would be quite disruptive and seems likely to cause delays, as well as additional costs. Otherwise a lot of big uncertainties continue to circle this project, such whether or not they can turn it into a commercially viable business, when the next satellite launch might take place and whether the previously considered proposal to add a GPS style solution to the LEOs is viable. Hopefully the answers will come sooner, rather than later.

UPDATE 28th August 2020

In a related development, OneWeb has just been granted FCC approval to launch another 1,280 satellites (total allowed now c.2,000). Gaining such approval can take several years and so this has been coming for a while. The most interesting aspect is that the additional 1,280 satellites were approved for medium Earth orbits of 8,500km, which is higher than their current c.1,200km but still lower than the bigger GSO spacecraft at 35,000km.

We suspect they might suffer some additional increase in latency times due to operating at such a height, but on the flip side they’ll be able to deliver better coverage. OneWeb filed another application in May 2020 to seek approval for 47,844 satellites (here), albeit at their current altitude of 1,200km, but that will probably take a long time to be cleared. In any case they don’t have the investment to deliver anything even remotely that big, yet.

The latest approval confirms that satellites will use V-Band spectrum (37.5 – 43.5GHz, 47.2 – 50.2 GHz, and 50.4 – 51.4GHz).

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar Rank grantees says:

    Another thing the government has thrown money at with no clue what they where buying into, they aren’t even sure if it can be used as a GPS system how sad.

    1. Avatar Wally76 says:

      yes they should just have let a British company fail miserably and let Elon Musk take over the universe shouldn’t they? leaving no competition at all and America to run everything because you personally hate the tories. How objective. They can have GPS added to them, if you bothered to read the technical proposals you’ll even see how.. but then if you get your news from left-wing nutjob papers like the grauniad then of course hur dur government stupid they can’t even figure out if their satellites work..

      If they UK wants them built in the UK they could award the contract to a British engineering company instead of a French/US one. Who cares what Airbus thinks.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Hi Wally, do you have a link to those technical proposals?

    3. Avatar Rank grantees says:

      Why so aggressive I don’t hate tories I voted for them I do object to waste and as for having them build in the UK if they want I’m guessing they would need to get the majority Indian owners Bharti Enterprises on side I’m sure they would rather India tho.

    4. Avatar Mike says:

      Government intervention in the market place is socialism.

    1. Avatar Wally76 says:

      yes it is and there are several other documents that are about the chip scale atomic clocks, everyone thinks they need huge solar panels and massive power systems and are too big for oneweb, they’re not. they were thinking about this stuff since before the launch and many ideas and documents existed but people prefer to believe a story that the government are idiots and got it all wrong wasting the taxpayer money. Each of the oneweb satellites, yes, each of them , can do GNSS at approximately the same accuracy as every other GNSS.

    2. Avatar Wally76 says:

      I suppose i should clarify, each of them, that they launch with the proposed tech. Obviously ones up there already don’t count

  2. Avatar Alex says:

    It may have escaped every respondents attention but 35%+ of small satellites are already manufactured in the UK. It’s not down the AirBus CEO, no reason why a new manufacturing arm cannot be developed so you don’t put all your ends in one basket. Airbus does not own the company, and this Airbus only got Satellite technology because of the UK so this CEO airhead needs to do her own homework. As for the comment about wasting money, again you have idiots making random statements, there will be 2-3 players in this market and oneweb will likely be one of them. Musk does not have a track record of success but a track record of failure on several products, so people commenting should learn to be careful and shut up as its not clear cut. Even this week MIT dismissed Musks brain control technology calling it nonsense. We will see.

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