OneWeb readies first satellites for February launch

23 January 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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The first six of OneWeb’s planned 900 small satellites have arrived at the launch site ready for orbiting next month.

French launcher company Arianespace will launch the six on 19 February on a Russian-made Soyuz rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.

“The delivery of our first satellites brings us one step closer to our first launch and beginning to now build our system in space,” said OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel. It will be “one of many launches in 2019”, he added. “We are excited to begin building our constellation and to see our services connecting people everywhere – by land, air, and sea.”

OneWeb will have to fight an increasing number of competitors. A report earlier this month by Frost & Sullivan said there will be 11,746 small satellites launched by 2030, creating a market worth $69 billion.

The first six OneWeb satellites will go into low orbit and will be joined over the next two years by the following 894 – to be launched 30 at a time. The first have been made by OneWeb and shareholder Airbus in Toulouse, but the group is completing a new factory in Florida that is expected to build most of them.

“OneWeb has a bold vision to enable connectivity for everyone, everywhere,” said Steckel. User terminals that will connect to the satellites will provide local 3G, 4G and WiFi services.

The company, whose backers include SoftBank, Intelsat, Hughes, Bharti and Virgin, also plans to provide in-flight services to commercial, private and military aircraft. Two years ago a plan for a merger with Intelsat collapsed after concern over Intelsat's debts. 

Steckel took over as CEO of OneWeb in September 2018. He is a previous CEO of Iusacell, the Mexican mobile operator that AT&T bought in 2015. He also led the buildout and operations of fibre backbones in Colombia and Peru.

Previous CEO Eric Béranger became president and COO on Steckel’s appointment.