STUART, Fla., January 15, 2015 (Virgin Group PR) — Writing in his blog today, Sir Richard Branson announced plans to launch the world’s largest ever satellite constellation.
Delighted to share news of an incredibly exciting project that could transform the world: we are creating a new constellation of satellites to make high speed internet and telephony available to billions of people who don’t currently have access.
OneWeb Ltd., formerly known known as WorldVu Satellites Ltd., has received financing from Virgin Group and to launch a constellation of 650 satellites to provide global broadband coverage, according to media reports. Space Newsreports on the company led by Greg Wyler:
The OneWeb network is currently designed as some 650 125-kilogram satellites operating at 1,200 kilometers in altitude, each capable of delivering at least 8 gigabits per second of throughput to provide Internet access to homes and mobile platforms.
Based in Britain’s Channel Islands, OneWeb has begun work on user terminals whose antennas — combining mechanical steering and a phased-array antenna — would measure 36 centimeters by 16 centimeters. They would provide Internet access at 50 megabits per second.
It looks like Greg Wyler and WorldVu are moving forward on its global broadband plan:
WorldVu Satellites Ltd., which has secured regulatory approval for the use of Ku-band spectrum in a non-geostationary-orbit constellation of hundreds of satellites for a global broadband Internet service, has issued requests for bids to satellite manufacturers for 640 125-kilogram satellites, industry officials said.
The system, which has been variously described as affiliated with Google and more recently with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. founder Elon Musk, is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion, including launch, for satellites that would each have 14 gigabits per second of throughput and orbit at 1,200 kilometers in altitude. The satellites would have a design life of seven years or more.
One official said the bid request asks for responses by mid-December and features a requirement that the prospective manufacturers agree to creating a joint-venture company in which WorldVu would co-own the satellite production facility.
“The idea behind this is that the way people build satellites today is not the way they should be built tomorrow,” this official said. “It’s true that the [profit] margins in the satellite manufacturing business stink. But there is a value in having full control of the design so that iterations could be made throughout the manufacturing process.”
Mr. Musk is working with Greg Wyler, a satellite-industry veteran and former Google Inc. executive, these people said. Mr. Wyler founded WorldVu Satellites Ltd., which controls a large block of radio spectrum.
In talks with industry executives, Messrs. Musk and Wyler have discussed launching around 700 satellites, each weighing less than 250 pounds, the people said. That is about half the size of the smallest communications satellites now in commercial use. The satellite constellation would be 10 times the size of the largest current fleet, managed by Iridium Communications Inc.
To be sure, the venture would face large financial, technical and regulatory hurdles, and industry officials estimate that it would cost $1 billion or more to develop the project. The people familiar with the matter cautioned the venture is in its formative stages, and Mr. Musk’s participation isn’t certain.
Messrs. Musk and Wyler are considering building a factory to make satellites, the people said. One of the people said initial talks have been held with state officials in Florida and Colorado about locating the factory.
In addition to Mr. Musk, WorldVu is seeking a satellite industry partner to lend expertise to the project, this person said.