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Airbus May Move OneWeb Satellite Manufacturing to UK After All

Sunday, December 27th, 2020 (10:43 am) - Score 6,816

Space firm OneWeb, which is owned by a consortium of the UK Government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global (here) and is in the process of building a mega constellation of “high-speed” broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), may move their Airbus supported manufacturing base to the UK.. eventually.

The UK government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global tabled a successful £800m ($1bn) bid to rescue the British-registered space company OneWeb from bankruptcy during the summer, which will see the UK invest £400m ($500m) to help build a new global network of LEO satellites for ultrafast broadband and possibly GPS (here).

So far a total of 110 LEO platforms have already been launched (another 36 were added this month) and the immediate plan is to build a modest constellation of 648 satellites, which is enough for a reasonable level of global coverage by around the end of 2022. On top of that they have future approval for a total of 2,000 platforms, provided enough investment can be found to support that.

At present these satellites are all being manufactured at their Florida facility with Airbus, which is a minority shareholder in OneWeb. In the past there have been suggestions that this could be moved to the UK, which is something that Debra Facktor, Head of Airbus US Space Systems, flatly rejected in August (here): “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.”

However, a new report in This is Money has claimed via “sources” that the current approach may change for the next generation of OneWeb’s LEOs, which could see manufacturing of those being moved into the UK. According to Richard Franklin, MD for Defence and Space at the UK arm of Airbus, “There’s a real intent and desire in Airbus that manufacturing is done from the UK.”

The suggestion appears to be that this probably wouldn’t impact the initial 648 satellites, but the story may be different for what comes after. We should point out that 1,280 of the currently approved future plan for 2,000 LEOs will actually sit in a higher Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 8,500km, which could hurt latency times (clever use of their LEOs may be able to mitigate this). On the flip side MEOs deliver better coverage and more opportunity to add global positioning tech (something the post-Brexit UK government now desires).

A Spokesperson for OneWeb said:

“We are very pleased with the partnership with Airbus. The production line is now achieving two satellites a day. We look forward to engaging with them as we look at generation two.”

Richard Franklin has suggested that design work on the second generation of OneWeb’s satellite constellation could being around 2022-23 and be ready for full production a year later, which seems likely to push the first launch of that fleet (likely to be the MEOs we mentioned above) into c.2024-25 territory. But this assumes OneWeb is a success and it’s currently too early to judge that before the service has even launched.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. OneWeb is a costly bad joke says:

    Yet more coulds and wishful thinking from this orbital flight of white elephants fantasy.

    Our ‘leaders’ have spaffed £400 million up the wall to buy bankrupt rubbish no-one else wanted, and to pay Putin’s Russia to dispose of it in space.

    How much more will it cost to complete this circus in space? A few billion probably, and likely a similar amount every 5 to 10 years to just keep the fantasy on life support.

    These global broadband mega constellations are costly vanity projects, which should be left in the realm of private enterprise and the billionaires who finance them, not the British tax payer.

    1. debdalerich says:

      When you live in the country side in the middle of Wales…when there is only one option and very expensive…it’s great to see our government investing in the UK!..it’s ok for people like you sitting there with their fiber connections..

    2. OneWeb is a costly bad joke says:

      @debdalerich: How illogical a response is that?… By the time OneWeb is able to provide “a service in the country side in the middle of Wales” private enterprise (read SpaceX Starlink and perhaps Amazon’s Kuiper) will have long since been able to, at a cost to the British tax payer of ZERO pounds and ZERO pence.

      It would make far greater financial sense for our ‘leaders’ buy guaranteed capacity off of a commercial operator and offer subsidised access to folk in the middle of x, than for the British tax payer to subsidise redundant satellite broadband for the whole world, via an public enterprise that’ll likely never offer a single penny in return on its investment.

      This government is spaffing good money after bad, bailing out foreign private investors and the funding Russian space programme, the very opposite of ‘investing in the UK’.

      It’s ok for people like you who live in a fantasy world of magic money planets, sitting there letting other people pay for things.

    3. Pete says:

      debdalerich, i agree with the other dude this is a waste of money, your assumption that he is with a fibre connection is probably wrong, i live in one of the most urbanised compacted places in the country and i don’t even have a fibre connection, they should focus on areas like this before funding out in the middle of nowhere connections!

    4. Labour sucks says:

      labour types: waaaah musn’t have megaprojects. wah wah. waste of money
      you should give it all to me and my millions of unemployed buddies for free instead.

    5. All political parties suck says:

      @Labour sucks. Labour doesn’t want mega projects and big spending? Are you serious?? What planet are you on?? Astonishing political ignorance.

      The Conservative party are meant to be the party of small government, private enterprise, fiscal conservatism and balanced books. The Conservatives were the party to oppose the spending of tax payer’s money on mega vanity projects and irresponsible spending.

      The current Conservative party is conservative in name only, having been overrun by radicals, headbangers and fanatical cultists.

      Opposing Labour’s irresponsible spending plans and habits was the Conservative’s strongest attribute, now they’ll never be able to claim to be the party of fiscal conservatism and balanced books ever again.

      However ignorant footballised dolts such as yourself will brush away all valid criticism to blindly support their team… what a sorry state our country is in.

    6. labour sucks says:

      what a boring load of waffle. yes what what, political ignorance, i say.
      you sound like the type that brainwashes our children on a daily basis at universities and colleges. Go back to stroking your multi coloured beard and drinking your warm brown beer.

      your time is over boomer, it’s time to stop thinking with 1950s small town mentality.

    7. All political parties suck says:

      @Labour sucks. What hysterically ignorant prattle, profoundly delusional too.

      Your time has never been and will never come, it’s time to get-over yourself, and join the real world.

  2. Steve says:

    Comments on here are ridiculous and so shortsighted! Global Britain (whether you agree or disagree) aims at moving with the times both economical and financial.

    It is no secret that the UK is THE world leading satellite tech country. I for one believe that this buy out of oneweb is a masterstroke particularly with the LEO higher medium orbit satellite positioning and numbers are ideal for GPS and military satcoms.

    UK will be launching space rockets in 2022 so it shouldn’t be a surprise as to where the UK are taking this, so this acquisition of oneweb has all of the recipes for the UK to expand further in space, science, tech and eventually putting these together to become a whole package. Getting in to the space race at this stage is important. It’s the matters that go under the radar such as UK designed and made rockets and engines for a 2 stage rocket at present and then moving up that go unnoticed.

    As for Bhati group, the broadband signal level for India is paramount for them. The UK joint venture is also significant to further our relations with India after brexit. India is a massively growing industry and one of whose space industry is considerably more advanced than ours. However one country has young expertise in space flight and the other country in electronic components and producing navigation components and all circuitry etc for very high end programs like Galileo (thanks to the idiotic EU to take what they couldn’t produce themselves and leave!).


    1. Not a unicornist says:

      Your comment on here is fantastical and so stupendously absurd.

      Unicorns don’t exist and your fantasy will never be delivered.

      What will be the payload capacity of the ‘space rockets’ launched by the UK come 2022? How many launches would it take to orbit a single OneWeb satellite?

      Ah the magical ‘under the radar’ things that no-one knows about, but absolutely exist in our new found independent sunny uplands, and will definitely be delivered by unicorns.

      If Bharti wants OneWeb let them have it, the whole lot of it, they can buy out the tax payer’s £400 million share and fund the rest of the folly themselves, good riddance.

      [Admin note: Sentence removed. Please do not post abuse towards others as that is against our rules. You can constructively disagree without it.]

  3. JoshBosh says:

    You can only suggest these satellites be used in a GPS context in lay terms. They in reality would be a GNSS service, like GPS, glonass, Galileo, baidao or the Japanese Australian joint venture.

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