By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Qualcomm Inc will invest in a venture to build and fly a constellation of 648 satellites that can provide high-speed, global Internet access, company officials said on Thursday.
Some of the spacecraft will be launched by Virgin's spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, which is developing a satellite-delivery service called LauncherOne, as well as a fleet of passenger suborbital vehicles, called SpaceSpaceTwo.
Virgin Galactic's first spaceship was destroyed during a fatal test flight last year.
WorldVu Satellites Limited, now operating as OneWeb, is currently reviewing proposals from potential manufacturers, company founder and Chief Executive Officer Greg Wyler said in a phone interview on Thursday.
The constellation, which is will cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, is intended to provide high-speed Internet and telephone services worldwide.
OneWeb's spacecraft will weigh less than 300 pounds (136 kg) and be positioned in orbits roughly 750 miles (1,207 km) above the Earth. The company already has been allotted use of a part of the radio spectrum for Internet services.
"The OneWeb system will extend the networks of mobile operators globally, enabling them to provide coverage to rural and remote areas," the company said in a statement.
OneWeb intends to partner with local operators to provide Internet access.
"Imagine the possibilities for the 3 billion people in hard to reach areas who are currently not connected," Branson said in a statement.
"We are pleased to join Virgin as an initial investor, and we look forward to helping fund initial technical feasibility work for the satellite system," added Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs.
Wyler declined to disclose how much London-based Virgin and California-based Qualcomm are investing in OneWeb. Branson and Jacobs will join OneWeb's board of directors.
Before starting OneWeb, Wyler co-founded another satellite venture, O3b Networks, and briefly worked at Google on another project to beam internet access from space.
(Editing By David Adams and Alan Crosby)