Richard Branson is pushing his space exploration further toward the goal of launching civilian space journeys. Branson says he’ll be the first person aboard the spaceship, after test pilots deem the spacecraft is ready. In the meantime, multi-billionaire Branson and other deep-pocketed investors have forked over $500 million to a company called OneWeb, that seeks to do precisely what Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already working on: beaming internet access from outer space.

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OneWeb is an internet satellite company hoping to win against SpaceX in the race to become the first to beam internet signals down to Earth. This week, Coca-Cola, Branson’s Virgin Group, Qualcomm, Airbus, and other power players announced the collective half billion dollar investment in the privately-owned company, which is registered to Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France. With this funding, OneWeb intends to launch a massive rocket program to launch more than 600 satellites in orbit to provide low-cost global Internet access.

Related: SpaceX close to launching internet-beaming satellites

OneWeb has suggested that its plan involves launching satellites in late 2017, with internet service starting in 2019. However, a lot more funding is needed to accomplish that goal. In total, a system the company has described would cost around $2 billion to establish.

Branson’s own space exploration efforts, Virgin Galactic, have had a rocky road of late. A crash on October 31, 2014 in the Mojave desert killed one young test pilot and severely injured another. Despite the ongoing investigation into that crash and the public relations nightmare that followed, Virgin Galactic has sealed a deal with OneWeb for 39 launches on Virgin’s under-construction LauncerOne rocket.


Images via Kris Krug and NASA (for illustration only)