The European aviation group will be inaugurating a satellite production facility near Cape Canaveral in Florida this fall. Airbus already makes mid-haul aircraft in Alabama but is now turning to space defense and government contracts for the U.S. armed forces.
The building set to host the future Airbus factory has been finished at the NASA space complex in Exploration Park. The paint is already dry and two assembly lines will be installed “in November or December,” says Quentin Hunstad, the Airbus’s spokesperson in the United States. The completed lines will enable the group to produce miniature satellites at a record-breaking rate of “two to three” per day.
Some 900 of these satellites — each the size of a refrigerator and weighing around 330 pounds — will be produced for the American company OneWeb. Sent into low-altitude orbit (745 miles above the Earth), the satellites will form a “constellation” capable of providing internet access to the entire planet.
An initial assembly line is currently being trialed at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse. Once the two assembly lines are operational in Florida, Airbus intends to reach its expected production capacity by 2019. “Our background is in manufacturing very large satellites,” says Quentin Hunstad. “We had to create a whole new manufacturing process for these much smaller satellites coming off the line at a very rapid pace.”
© Dominique Eskenazi/OneWeb Satellites
The Florida factory will employ 250 Americans and create 3,000 indirect jobs across the state while offering a showcase for Airbus. The European group has invested 85 million dollars in the site and hopes to offer its miniature satellite technology to the American government. Discussions are underway with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Air Force, the Missile Defense Agency, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to Quentin Hunstad.
The first ten satellites will be produced in France and launched before the end of the year from France’s base in Kourou, French Guyana. According to OneWeb, the following satellites will be launched from several different sites including Kourou, Cape Canaveral, Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and Vostochny in Russia.
Airbus to Mars
As part of another partnership between Europe and the United States, Airbus is currently completing the construction of NASA’s future exploration vehicle in its facility in Bremen, Germany. The capsule (or “service module”) will provide oxygen, water, electricity, heat, and fuel to the crew of the Orion space vessel during their journey to Mars. The finished vehicle will be transported to Florida by boat in August and coupled with the Orion vessel this fall. Its first flight will be a crewless exploration mission set to launch in 2020.