Virgin Galactic has been named as the launch provider for OneWeb Ltd., a satellite technology startup proposing to create a satellite network to supply high-speed Internet connections.
OneWeb, based in Great Britain’s Channel Islands, will use the LauncherOne rocket system, being developed and built by Virgin Galactic at the Mojave Air & Space Port in the Antelope Valley.
LauncherOne would be launched from a carrier aircraft to take the rocket to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, where it would then launch into space with payloads of up to 500 pounds. The rocket would not be ready for use until perhaps next year.
The OneWeb proposal is to take a fleet of 648 micro satellites each weighing less than 300 pounds into low-earth orbit to provide high-speed Internet access directly to small user terminals deployed around the world.
Additionally, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was named as an investor in OneWeb and will join the company’s board of directors.
The OneWeb satellite network would allow for up to three billion people in hard-to-reach areas to connect to the Internet, Branson said.
“We’re excited for the opportunity for Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne programme to help make it possible through low cost, reliable and frequent satellite launches,” he said in a prepared statement.
OneWeb founder Greg Wyler previously had been associated with Google Inc. and its efforts at building a satellite network for Internet connections.
Also, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, the Hawthorne commercial space company of entrepreneur Elon Musk, is reportedly opening a facility in Seattle to make small satellites to provide Internet connections.
Financial terms of the Virgin Galactic deal, announced Thursday, were not disclosed.