“We’re beyond, ‘Can we build it?'” he says, claiming his company is prepared to mass-produce satellites and their components to be assembled “like legos” for specific jobs, to an extent that he expects the manufacturing venture to change the industry, which has never mass-produced satellites before. “It’s not our primary business, but the cost of satellites will come down dramatically.”

The initial run of 10 satellites will be built in France, and are expected to cost about $500,000 each by the time manufacturing ramps up, with a total system cost of $2 billion, Wyler estimates. OneWeb says it has plans to build a satellite factory somewhere in the US for full mass production.

A rendering of the OneWeb satellite, which will be smaller than a fully-grown person.
A rendering of the OneWeb satellite, which will be smaller than a fully-grown person.
Image: Airbus

SpaceX has plenty of space-manufacturing chops after designing and building its Falcon rockets and Dragon space capsules, often developing techniques to build components in-house rather than paying more for an outside supplier. The company opened an office in Seattle this year to develop its satellite division, but it is unclear how long the company will take to begin production.

Where SpaceX does have a clear advantage is getting the satellites into space, since that is the company’s primary business. It remains the lowest-cost launch provider to low-earth orbit, and one of the most flexible.

OneWeb, on the other hand, will need a more expensive contract with a launch provider. It has announced that Arianespace, the leading European rocketry company, will fulfill 65 launch orders, including 21 with Russian Soyuz rockets, though it’s not clear when they those launches will occur. The company has also committed to launch ten satellites with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. But rocketry experts are skeptical that the Virgin will be able to build and fly a satellite-launching rocket in the next few years.


If Wyler is concerned about being forced into sharing American spectrum with SpaceX, he isn’t showing it. “We are fully focused on building our system and enabling broadband access for everyone,” he tells Quartz.

Wyler’s career—at his previous satellite company, O3b, and bringing fiber-optics to Rwanda—has focused on bringing internet connectivity to low-GDP, low-density areas, places starved of “oxygen,” that is, internet access that can enable economic growth. He plans to work with existing telecom companies, with OneWeb’s data terminals—which will provide emit wi-fi, LTE and 3G signals—acting as another tool to provide access for customers.

Musk’s ambitions could be described as humanitarian in another direction. He is outspoken about the goal behind SpaceX is developing the technology necessary for humans to be a multi-planetary species—to colonize Mars.

“The satellites constitute as much, or more, of the cost of space-based activity as the rockets do. Very often, actually, the satellites are more expensive than the rocket. So, in order for us to really revolutionize space, we have to address both satellites and rockets,” Musk said at the opening of the Seattle office. “[This satellite constellation] is intended to generate a significant amount of revenue and help fund a city on Mars.”

Musk’s vision, like Wyler’s, is of a global network that improves connectivity in rich and poor countries alike. If they are both able to launch on time—a big if in the space industry—then they may find themselves competing, within the byzantine rules of global communications, to light up countries around the world with internet access.

“I’m hopeful that we can structure agreements with various countries to allow communication with their citizens but it is on a country by country basis,” Musk said in Seattle. “Not all countries will agree at first. There will always be some countries that don’t agree. That’s fine.”

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