No decision yet on where to build OneWeb second-generation satellites

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PARIS — A week after a OneWeb executive told British officials that the company would move production of its second generation of satellites to the United Kingdom, another executive said the company has yet to decide where it will build those satellites.

At a Dec. 8 hearing by the U.K. Parliament’s science and technology committee, Chris McLaughlin, chief of government, regulatory affairs and engagement at OneWeb, said the company intended to build a second generation of satellites in the U.K. starting in the middle of the decade.

“To your point about whether we will bring the factory to the U.K., the answer is yes,” he said when asked by a member if there were any plans to move satellite production to the country. “The intention is to build Gen 2 and the associated technology in the U.K.”

He said OneWeb was planning to invest $3 billion in the development of that second-generation constellation, adding that those plans did not depend on any financial support from the British government, one of the major shareholders in OneWeb. “We will start to plan Gen 2 in 2022, so by 2024-25 we will be building in the U.K.”

However, during a Dec. 14 panel discussion at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here, Massimiliano Ladovaz, chief technology officer of OneWeb, argued those comments were misinterpreted in media reports after the hearing.

“We are still evaluating exactly how the entire supply chain for Gen 2 will be deployed,” he said. “Clearly, there will be an important presence in the U.K., we’re not denying that. But we’re going to look at the best in class everywhere.”

Ladovaz said the company has issued requests for information regarding its Gen 2 plans, that will be followed by “competitive” requests for proposal. “We will take the best,” he said.

OneWeb’s current generation of satellites are built by a joint venture with Airbus at a factory in Florida that opened in 2019. Airbus built an initial set of satellites at a facility in Toulouse, France, before the Florida factory opened. The company also has a significant presence in the U.K.

In a Dec. 14 interview, Jean-Marc Nasr, executive vice president of space systems at Airbus, said he was willing to build the satellites where OneWeb wanted. “We’ll produce the second-generation satellites where the customers are,” he said. “Nothing is decided.”

He added that key intellectual property for the satellites belonged to the joint venture, not to OneWeb alone. “We are the partner with OneWeb for Gen 1. We support OneWeb on Gen 2,” he said. “We’ll produce satellites in the U.K., in the U.S., and in France, depending on the customer needs.”

Airbus, he added, was working to find additional customers for satellites that could be built at the Florida factory, using a bus based on the design used for OneWeb. “Thanks to this investment that we’ve made, I see more and more customers extremely interested in the standard version of our bus,” he said, including “many U.S. prospects.” He declined, though, to discuss specific opportunities. “Stay tuned.”