By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Satellite internet Startup OneWeb Ltd plans to manufacture 15 satellites per week at a planned factory in Florida as part of its push to provide global high-speed internet access, company officials said on Tuesday.
Backed by Richard Branson's Virgin Group and other well-known firms, OneWeb aims to supply internet services worldwide through a fleet of 700 or more satellites it expects to have in orbit and operating by the end of 2019.
Construction of the Florida factory has not yet begun and OneWeb did not say when manufacturing would start. On Tuesday it unveiled the factory’s location near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, two days after Reuters reported it.
The first group of 10 satellites are being built at partner Airbus' Toulouse, France facility.
Typically, communications satellites take four to five months to assemble, Brian Holz, chief executive of OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture of OneWeb and Europe’s Airbus Group's Defense and Space said during an event near the future location of the factory.
“We’re going to build one in an eight-hour shift,” he said. He did not give details but said the factory would be highly automated.
OneWeb plans to hire 250 engineers to work at the state-financed, robotics-intensive facility to be located in an industrial park next door to where Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is building a rocket factory.
The company also intends to build satellites for other companies and agencies, including the U.S. military and NASA, said OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, a well-known communications satellite industry executive. He said the initial run of satellites would be 900 to provide for spares.
Wyler said that the region’s aerospace and engineering workforce, plus up to about $20 million in financial incentives from the state and county, were key to the company’s decision on where to base the 100,000 square foot plant.
Space Florida, a state-backed space economic development agency, plans to spend up to about $80 million to build and equip the factory, which will then be leased to OneWeb, Space Florida President Frank DiBello said in an interview.
OneWeb has raised $500 million in an initial round of financing for its venture from a group of companies including Virgin Group, Airbus, India’s Bharti Enterprises, chipmaker Qualcomm Inc, Hughes Network Systems [HGCMH.UL], Intelsat, Coca-Cola Co and Mexico’s Totalplay.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Peter Henderson and Andrew Hay)