Space Florida KSC Exploration Park Campus, July 2019: Visitors to the home of OneWeb Satellite's new manufacturing base on Merritt Island in Florida, U.S.A. will find changes taking place that are revolutionizing low-cost access to Space.
OneWeb Satellites is the joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus who together first broke ground at this site in March 2017. By autumn 2019 a skilled assembly team is expected to be in full production mode, turning out GEN1 satellites at a rate of two a day, in time for OneWeb’s next scheduled launch in December 2019.
According to OneWeb's CTO Massimiliano: "It's such an exciting moment. I've worked with major suppliers all over the world, and have a lot of experience in the industry - but our Florida factory is unlike anything I've ever seen before. The sheer size and scale are incredible. The world has never seen anything like this before."
The factory itself is roughly the size of two American Football fields (110,000 square feet). It houses two assembly lines known as FAL2 and FAL3 and a Clean Room that measures 73,000 square feet. The environment here must be completely free of dust and contaminants for the high-tech manufacturing process to take place.
Each satellite is modular. This makes it extremely efficient to construct, with four modules that fit together like the four sides of a box.
There are four module construction stations on each assembly line. At each station, an A-team of manufacturing engineers, robotics and “smart tools” assembles each component to the required standards. Everything is built in parallel, for maximum efficiency, with teams building all four types of module at the same time.
Once each module is built, robots transport it to the assembly station, where teams bring the satellite together. The finished product is roughly the size of a washing machine.
The factory also has a ‘hospital’ for satellites taken off the assembly line, with problems detected during assembly or testing. These satellites can be repaired whilst the main assembly line continues without interruption. If the module cannot be repaired within one hour, it is immediately sent back to the supplier or vendor – a good example of the efficient modular assembly process.
Once a satellite is built and initial testing is complete, it goes to the “day in the life” (DITL) chambers for a two-day series of electrical and environment tests that replicate operational and environmental conditions in Space. There are 32 chambers where these tests take place and which can all be operated at the same time.
After that, OneWeb needs to agree that it’s been tested properly and that all the results are good. Once done, the satellite is handed over to OneWeb, to be integrated on rails, placed in containers and be made ready for shipping to our launch sites.
“It sounds cheesy, but I’m extremely proud to work in a factory that’s at the very forefront of the industry. Here, we’re not just making satellites: we’re making history.”
OneWeb Project Manager Harvey Kay