OneWeb Satellites to keep Toulouse factory open for other customers

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The OneWeb-Airbus joint venture tasked with building 900 satellites for OneWeb plans to keep its first production line in France running to build satellites for other operators.

OneWeb Satellites is building the first 10 small satellites for OneWeb’s low-Earth orbit broadband constellation in Toulouse, France, before shifting production of the majority of the constellation to a new $85 million factory in Exploration Park, Florida.

But rather than let the infrastructure in France lay idle, OneWeb Satellites wants to repurpose the factory to build more small satellites.

“We always intended to maintain the line in Toulouse as long as we can,” Brian Holz, CEO of OneWeb Satellites, told SpaceNews. “Besides OneWeb, we are hoping to utilize the product in other markets. We will have the Florida lines up and running in the spring next year, and we will use Toulouse for some initial customers outside of OneWeb to begin selling those products.”

Holz said other customers are interested in using OneWeb Satellite’s production volume in Toulouse for constellation projects of their own. He described the market as “very robust.”

“I think it’s going to be really exciting when we get into next year,” he said. “You’ll see some other customers coming online soon.”

OneWeb and Airbus created the joint venture with the ability to build satellites for other companies and organizations besides OneWeb, but so far no other customers have been announced. Holz said prospective customers have an interest in multiple mission types beyond telecommunications.

OneWeb Satellites will build other satellites roughly the same size as the 150-kilogram satellites under construction for OneWeb. Some designs may grow slightly larger, but OneWeb Satellites doesn’t intend to build much smaller than that.

“We won’t do everything. We are a certain size spacecraft with a certain capability and we can tweak some of the parameters a little bit. It’s not everything for everybody, but there are some very interesting things we can do,” he said.

OneWeb’s first launch is scheduled for March 2018 on a Soyuz rocket from Arianespace. Greg Wyler, OneWeb’s founder, said in June that the first production satellites from Toulouse should be leaving the factory for Arianespace’s  Kourou, French Guiana, launch site in October. Additional Soyuz launches are to ramp up after March in order for OneWeb to start operational service in 2019. Each Soyuz launch is to carry 32 satellites.

“We will also use Toulouse as a production risk mitigation to Florida,” Holz added. “If we have interruptions in production for whatever reason, or we need to ramp the rate, Toulouse will allow us to do that.”