Two months ago, the first six satellites of the US company Oneweb were shot into space. Airbus is building satellites that will enable fast Internet access anywhere in the world. The European aerospace company, however, sees much more potential applications.
There are possible applications that we have not really thought about yet,” said Nicolas Chamussy, head of the space division Airbus Space Systems, the business newspaper Handelsblatt. “Today we will probably see only a tenth of what is possible.” One possibility is the collection of weather data: “For meteorologists, for example, it would be a dream to have a constellation of satellites that permanently captures climate-relevant data around the globe.”
The satellites are much smaller and lighter than previous communication satellites. A Oneweb satellite weighs only about 150 kilograms – which is about half as heavy as the smallest current communication satellite. Accordingly, they are also cheaper: One of the small satellites costs one million euros, conventional satellites are significantly more expensive.
But Chamussy sees no competition for Airbus’ other satellite business: “It’s more about complementing high-performance, expensive satellites, not about replacing them,” he says. There is also a prospect for small satellites derived from the Oneweb program: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the United States Department of Defense research agency.
Since it is advantageous that the satellites are manufactured in the US. The Florida factory near the Cape Canaveral launch site has recently been completed. Airbus has “a foot in the US,” says Chamussy. “We can offer two families of products, in the United States and in Europe, each meeting national conditions.” That is certainly not a disadvantage given the current trade tensions between the European Union and the US government under President Donald Trump.
The US company Oneweb wants to build a constellation for global Internet reception. It will initially consist of 600 satellites but later expanded to 900. To achieve this, Oneweb and Airbus want to launch a cargo satellite into orbit every three weeks.