The OneWeb internet satellite venture says it has secured another $1.2 billion in investment, including a billion dollars from SoftBank Group.
OneWeb said the new infusion of capital will support the construction of a high-volume satellite production facility in Exploration Park, Fla., capable of producing 15 satellites a week. Production is to begin in 2018, with an eye toward having OneWeb’s network operating by as early as 2019.
The operation is expected to create nearly 3,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the next four years, including jobs in engineering and manufacturing, OneWeb said.
SoftBank’s investment serves as an initial follow-through on a pledge made by the Japan-based conglomerate’s chairman and CEO, Masayoshi Son, to President-elect Donald Trump. During a meeting in New York this month, Son told Trump that he’d invest $50 billion in the U.S. to create 50,000 jobs.
“This is the first step in that commitment,” Son said today in a statement. “America has always been at the forefront of innovation and technological development, and we are thrilled to be playing a part in continuing to drive that growth as we work to create a truly globally connected ecosystem.”
Some have speculated that SoftBank’s investment strategy also includes pursuing a merger between telecom provider Sprint, which is majority-owned by SoftBank, and T-Mobile, which has its U.S. headquarters in Bellevue, Wash.
The newly announced investment is a shot in the arm for OneWeb, which is facing a 2019 deadline to take advantage of a spectrum license granted by the International Telecommunications Union to provide low-cost, high-speed internet service.
OneWeb’s plan calls for putting up a constellation of 720 low-Earth-orbit satellites, and adding to it as time goes on. The venture says it plans to provide high-speed internet access to “every unconnected school in the world by 2022.”
OneWeb’s longer-term goal is to “fully bridge the Digital Divide by 2027, making Internet access available and affordable for everyone,” said Greg Wyler, the company’s chairman.
Over the past couple of years, OneWeb attracted more than half a billion dollars in investment from Airbus Group, Qualcomm, Bharti Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Coca-Cola, the Virgin Group and Totalplay.
Previous investors joined SoftBank in filling out the $1.2 billion financing round. OneWeb said the transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2017. In connection with the investment, Ronald Fisher, a director on SoftBank Group’s board, will join OneWeb’s board of directors as well.
Airbus is taking the lead role in designing and building the 330-pound satellites, while Europe’s Arianespace consortium and Virgin Galactic are slated to put them in orbit. Arianespace plans to use Russian-built Soyuz rockets, launched from French Guiana in South America. Virgin Galactic would use its Launcher One system, which is currently under development.
The first 10 satellites are to be built at Airbus’ plant in France, and Wyler said they’d be launched in early 2018 to test the system.
OneWeb isn’t the only venture in the race to provide connectivity to the estimated 4 billion people around the world who don’t have it today. SpaceX is also working on an internet satellite network, with its Seattle office playing a prime role. Other potential players include Boeing and Facebook.