Virgin Galactic has today announced that it has won the contract to launch 39 satellites for OneWeb, using its LauncherOne rockets.
The idea behind OneWeb is rather smart - the company is trying to build a satellite broadband network to reach parts of the world that are underserved by terrestrial means. So perhaps in a few years we could be watching Netflix from the top of Mount Everest.
To make it happen, OneWeb has apparently received a $500m investment from a number of big money partners including Airbus, Intelsat, Qualcomm, Virgin itself and... umm, the CocaCola company. Really.
To get the 39 new satellites into space Virgin Galactic currently has 120 engineers working from a 150,000 square foot facility in California, and is testing rockets in the Mojave desert. As part of the agreement, there's also scope for a possible 100 additional satellite launches after too - according to the OneWeb website, the intention is to eventually have 648 satellites orbiting the Earth.
Intriguingly, LauncherOne is unlike the more conventional launchers we've previously seen from Nasa and SpaceX - it looks more like two normal planes strapped together - with the rocket part that actually goes into space held in the middle.
Ordering 39 rockets in one go is a big deal for the nascent space industry. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said: “Virgin Galactic is hard at work to provide responsive launch capability to support OneWeb’s historic constellation. The scale of this order will drive our manufacturing rates to achieve unprecedented cost reductions for small satellite launch. We are excited to support OneWeb and its partners as they harness the potential of small satellites to create new opportunities for all.”
The news today comes less than a year after the crash of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo, which killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injured pilot Peter Siebold. The OneWeb launches will be unmanned.