Florida’s Space Coast Lands New Addition

The $85 million OneWeb Satellites facility will be located in Exploration Park, very close to NASA’s Space Center.
OneWeb Satellites facility in Exploration Park, Fla., rendering
OneWeb Satellites facility in Exploration Park, Fla., rendering

Merritt Island, Fla.—OneWeb Satellites LLC broke ground on an estimated $85 million manufacturing project in Exploration Park, Fla. If everything stays on schedule, the facility will be engaged, by year-end, in high-volume assembly line production of orbital satellites, the first such facility in the world.

The developer is a joint venture between OneWeb, a satellite-based Internet provider, and Airbus Americas, the U.S.-based operation of Airbus, the European aerospace and defense giant.

The facility will be a build-to-suit/leaseback of about 100,000 square feet on 12.5 acres, located directly across Kennedy Parkway from NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, which is supporting the project, told Commercial Property Executive.

This reportedly will be the first satellite manufacturing facility in Florida and the first in the United States that’s in close proximity to a launch site. “With this facility, we will be able to continuously iterate on the design of our satellites [and] launch new satellites within hours of completion,” OneWeb Founder & Executive Chairman Greg Wyler said in a prepared statement.

OneWeb’s goal is building a communications network with a constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites that will provide connectivity to billions of people around the world. The facility’s first order, in fact, will include the production of 900 communications satellites for OneWeb.

By using aircraft manufacturing technologies from Airbus, up to three satellites per day can be produced at the new factory on short schedules and at significant cost savings, OneWeb said. The factory is set to begin its full assembly-line production, integration and satellite testing later this year.

OneWeb Satellite facility breaks ground in Exploration Park., Fla.
OneWeb Satellite facility breaks ground in Exploration Park., Fla.

The initiative is anticipated to create nearly 250 direct, highly skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs locally. Better yet for this core part of Florida’s Space Coast, this facility is just a part of the ongoing expansion of aerospace manufacturing near the Kennedy Space Center.

Space Florida is a special district of the State of Florida, sort of a “spaceport authority,” Ketcham explained to CPE. As such, it manages the roughly 300-acre Exploration Park, which is on land owned by NASA.

Hopes for the site originally had been high, according to Ketcham, based on the Constellation Program, NASA’s manned spaceflight initiative that envisioned returning to the Moon no later than 2020, but the program was cancelled by the Obama administration in 2010. The 2008 recession and the retirement of the last Space Shuttle in July 2011 also contributed to losses of local space-related jobs, which ultimately totaled about 9,000, Ketcham said.

Space-related manufacturing has been steadily growing back, though, and Ketcham said that when OneWeb Satellites is fully operational, all of the lost jobs will have been replaced.

The one fully operating building at Exploration Park is the Space Life Sciences Lab, a $30 million multi-tenant facility occupied by multiple private-sector companies and U.S. and foreign universities.

But in addition to OneWeb Satellites, Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space startup, is well under way with a 750,000-square-foot on about 130 acres in Exploration Park, essentially across the road from OneWeb Satellites, Spaceflight Insider reported in December.

Other companies that recently have built manufacturing facilities near the space center include Northrop Grumman, Embraer and RUAG Space, a division of Swiss technology group RUAG and a supplier of components for OneWeb Satellites, Ketcham said.

Rendering courtesy of OneWeb Satellites, ground breaking image courtesy of Airbus Group Inc.