OneWeb LLC plans to kick-off satellite production at its manufacturing plant in Florida this spring, thanks to its largest funding round to date.
The Arlington, Virginia-based company announced March 18 that it secured a $1.25 billion funding round led by Tokyo-based multitrillion-dollar conglomerate Softbank Group Corp., Qualcomm Technologies Inc. and more. Founded in 2012, OneWeb has gotten $3.4 billion in investments to date.
"This latest funding round makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition," said Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, in a prepared statement.
OneWeb's $85 million, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Space Florida's Exploration Park on Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral is not yet complete. Space Florida states that there are a few cosmetic additions being done such as landscaping and final painting, as well people inside setting things up. However, a certificate of occupancy is just a few weeks, if not days, from being issued, said Dale Ketcham, vice president of government and external relations for Space Florida, the state's spaceport authority.
The facility is a key factor in the company's ability to reach its goal to send hundreds of satellites to space to connect more than 4 billion people in the world who are without internet connectivity. The assembly plant will have the capability to build two washing machine-size satellites a day and will employ 250 workers with an average annual pay of $65,000. The location in Florida is OneWeb's largest manufacturing plant.
In February, OneWeb had a successful first launch of six of its satellites to space using European launch provider Arianespace from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. The company plans to use Arianespace's services 20 times to carry 36 of its rockets to orbit each trip, totaling 720 rockets. OneWeb said its launch program will be monthly to have its full constellation of satellites up and running by 2021.
OneWeb's manufacturing plant in Florida has been a long time coming, though, as the company first announced its plans for it in 2016.
The new facility should help OneWeb in its efforts to keep up with small satellite demand against its rival SpaceX, a rocket company that both builds and launches rockets and is getting into the satellite business by announcing plans for a 12,000-satellite constellation called Starlink. SpaceX also is ramping up its satellite manufacturing workforce in Redmond, Wash., with more than 30 jobs posted on its website.
Last year, Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX launched two of its test satellites to space and they performed well, giving the company confidence to send more.
Meanwhile, activity from both OneWeb and SpaceX is good business for Florida's Space Coast. While the jobs OneWeb creates will contribute to the local economy, the company also has a contract with rocket company Blue Origin to use its New Glenn rocket for small satellite delivery, as well. Blue Origin is building its New Glenn rockets in Exploration Park, too — right across the street from where OneWeb's new facility is being built. OneWeb currently has a small office in Cocoa Beach.
And SpaceX is just one competitor of many for OneWeb.
Ontario, Canada-based Telesat Corp. plans to ship hundreds of satellites into orbit, and it selected Blue Origin as its main launch provider.
More satellite firms are expected to follow suit, said Satellite Industry Association President Tom Stroup. “I can see more companies wanting to build bigger satellite constellations, but they might not do so as quickly as OneWeb and SpaceX. We’ll start seeing the construction of test satellites. Given the very harsh environment in space, [firms] will go through extensive testing or launch one or two satellites to test how they will work before they start launching a constellation.”