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Investing in Space

Space startup adds $1.25 billion from SoftBank and others to mass produce internet satellites

Key Points
  • Internet satellite start-up OneWeb announces $1.25 billion in additional funding, bringing total fundraising since 2012 to $3.4 billion.
  • The latest round was led by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, Mexican conglomerate Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm and the Rwandan government.
  • OneWeb is aiming to launch 650 satellites into orbit over the next two years.
Greg Wyler, the founder of OneWeb, shows a model of the company's satellites inside a rocket fairing.
The Washington Post | The Washington Post | Getty Images

OneWeb announced $1.25 billion in additional funding from investors on Monday as the internet satellite start-up begins to rapidly increase production, aiming to launch 650 satellites into orbit over the next two years.

"OneWeb is moving from the planning and development stage to deployment of our full constellation." OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a statement.

This latest influx of cash represents OneWeb's largest single round of fundraising. The round was led by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, Mexican conglomerate Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm and the Rwandan government. OneWeb has now raised a total of $3.4 billion since its inception in 2012, with earlier investments also coming from Virgin Group, Coca Cola, Airbus, Intelsat, EchoStar-owned Hughes Communications and Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises.

The added capital enables OneWeb "to accelerate the development" of its global network of satellites, the company said. Marcelo Claure, SoftBank COO, said in a statement that OneWeb's first successful launch last month "extended its first-mover advantage" in the internet satellite race.

Boeing, SpaceX and Telesat are just a few of the companies racing to build next-generation networks of satellites, called constellations. Using small satellites, OneWeb and others plan to use an interconnected network of satellites to provide internet coverage across the entire globe. These constellations are looking to offer speeds comparable to Earth-bound fiber optic networks.

Satellite mass production facility in Florida starts up

OneWeb is building the satellites through a joint venture with Airbus called "OneWeb Satellites." The first six satellites launched last month were built in Toulouse, France. But OneWeb says it is ready to "ramp-up production this spring" at its manufacturing facility near Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"We're set up for scale," Steckel told CNBC. "We can do about two satellites a day at maximum."

Each OneWeb satellite costs about $1 million to manufacture, according to Steckel. If OneWeb is going to keep to its two year timetable, the company needs to begin producing satellites quickly and at scale.

OneWeb expects to being a monthly launch campaign in the fourth quarter of this year, with more than 30 satellites going up on each rocket. The start-up contracted the launches to Arianespace, which is using Russian-built Soyuz rockets to put OneWeb's satellites in orbit.

In addition to the Florida manufacturing facility, OneWeb is based-out of operation centers in London and Virginia, with an additional office in California.