Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

Competition for Satellite Orders Heats Up as Airbus Opens Silicon Valley Innovation Center

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
June 15, 2015
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Greg Wyler of OneWeb

Greg Wyler of OneWeb

Amy Svitak of ShowNews takes a look at the battle to win satellite contracts for the rival satellite constellations being pursued by OneWeb and SpaceX.

But in the scramble to compete for a chance to build such cutting-edge constellations, established satellite makers accustomed to producing a handful of high-dollar spacecraft each year have already learned a few things from Silicon Valley, where tech powerhouses are demanding the production of hundreds of small birds per year at a cost of around $1 million each, and even less.

“I think we can make an attractive proposition for the manufacturing of the satellites,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders told Aviation Week & Space Technology in May. Airbus Defense and Space, formerly Astrium, is one of five companies bidding on a constellation of more than 600 Internet satellites proposed by OneWeb. “We build hundreds of planes every year. Why wouldn’t we be able to also build hundreds of satellites?” asked Enders, adding that the company is willing to invest in OneWeb as a partner and to stand up manufacturing facilities in the U.S., as CEO Greg Wyler has stipulated.

Earlier this year Enders took a group of managers, including Airbus Group chief strategist Marwan Lahoud, to visit Silicon Valley. On May 29 Airbus announced plans to invest in a new venture capital fund and development of an innovation center there, with initial capital of $150 million….

Also in the running for the OneWeb bid is Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. No stranger to producing satellites in large quantities, Thales was prime contractor for the O3b Networks constellation of 12 Ka-band broadband satellites now circling in medium Earth orbit over the Equator. The company is building Iridium’s next-generation constellation of 81 communications satellites in LEO.

As a result, Thales recently began using new robotic systems on the factory floor at its Cannes satellite manufacturing facility to produce some space components. The company is also introducing additive manufacturing in building satellite parts in an effort to lower mass and save as much as half the cost of producing them.

Airbus Group Ventures is being run by CEO Tim Dombrowski. The 54-year-old Dombrowski was a partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, “where he focused on enterprise portfolio company development. He also served as Director of Global Business Development at HP and Director of Worldwide Business Consulting for Opsware Inc.,” according to a Airbus Group press release.

“He also served as Director of Global Business Development at HP and Director of Worldwide Business Consulting for Opsware Inc. In addition to his substantial venture capital and business development experience, Tim Dombrowski also gained experience in the aerospace field during his tenure at PTC, contributing to defense, satellite and UAV programs, as well as with previous positions at Goodrich for commercial aircraft and military helicopters with UTC Sikorsky,” the press released stated.

Airbus Group Silicon Valley technology and business innovation center is being run by CEO Paul Eremenko. Thge 35-year executive formerly served as director of engineering in Google’s  Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) organization.

“Before joining Google, Eremenko held various senior positions at Motorola and at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Defense Department’s principal engine for disruptive innovation, where he headed the office responsible for all aircraft, spacecraft, and other large system development efforts,” according to the press release.

“Eremenko also brings aircraft design experience to Airbus Group, having previously led the development of the GoldenEye-100 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at Aurora Flight Sciences and various UAV platforms at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. Paul Eremenko graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees in aeronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology. Eremenko also holds a degree in law and is an avid pilot,” the statement reads.

“We are thrilled to welcome Tim and Paul to Airbus Group,” said Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group. “Both bring tremendous experience in their relative fields and an entrepreneurial spirit that aligns with our vision for the Airbus Group Ventures fund and the business innovation center.

“Our investment and engagement through these new initiatives are key elements in the global transformation of our company,” Enders added. “Silicon Valley serves as a unique hub for technology breakthroughs and we see huge opportunities to learn from and partner with the many players based there. While we have strategically located in the Valley, we intend to engage with innovative players worldwide, including our own backyard in Europe. With this approach, we will accelerate our transformation into an international leader in aerospace technology innovation, while offering tremendous benefits to our customers and partners as we bring innovative products and services.”