Europe's Airbus Group will design and build about 900 satellites for privately owned OneWeb Ltd, which plans to offer high-speed, space-based Internet access to billions of people worldwide, company officials said Monday.
About 700 of the satellites, each of which will weigh less than 330 pounds (150 kilograms), will be launched into orbit around Earth beginning in 2018. The rest will stay on the ground until replacements are needed, said OneWeb, based in Britain's Channel Islands.
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Bankrolled in part by Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group and chipmaker Qualcomm, the project will cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, said Greg Wyler, OneWeb's founder and chief executive officer. Airbus Defense and Space will build the first 10 spacecraft at its facility in Toulouse, France, before shifting production to an undisclosed site in the United States.
Some of OneWeb's satellites will be flown by Branson’s space company, Virgin Galactic, which is developing a low-cost, small satellite launcher as well as a suborbital passenger spaceship.
California-based SpaceX is planning its own global satellite Internet project, which is backed by a $1 billion investment from Google and Fidelity.
Related: How SpaceX Plans to Test Its Satellite Internet Service