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UK finalises acquisition of satellite constellation firm OneWeb

Image credit: OneWeb

The UK’s acquisition of bankrupt satellite firm OneWeb has been completed today, the Government has announced.

Purchased in consortium with Bharti Global, the company had been working to provide satellite internet worldwide with a constellation of up to 648 satellites.

However, the firm only managed to launch 74 of its low-Earth orbit satellites before going bust in March, as it failed to secure funding to continue the project.

The acquisition was seen as a way to keep the UK’s space sector buoyant, after British companies were shut out from the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation project due to Brexit.

Both the UK and Bharti each invested around £400m to gain a 45 per cent stake each in the firm.

OneWeb is now adding staff to complete the development of its first-generation constellation and plans to launch another 34-36 satellites in December, bringing its in-orbit fleet to 110 satellites.

The firm believes it is on track to begin commercial connectivity services to the UK and the Arctic region in late 2021 and will expand to delivering global services in 2022.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “This strategic investment demonstrates Government’s commitment to the UK’s space sector in the long-term and our ambition to put Britain at the cutting edge of the latest advances in space technology.”

“Access to our own global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect people worldwide, providing fast UK-backed broadband from the Shetlands to the Sahara and from Pole to Pole.”

“This deal gives us the chance to build on our strong advanced manufacturing and services base in the UK, creating jobs and technical expertise.”

In addition to consumer broadband services, OneWeb could also improve connectivity for sectors that work in remote locations such as aviation and marine transport.

In August, astronomers warned that satellite constellations like those that form OneWeb’s business could “fundamentally change” astronomy and called on firms not to launch them. Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX was also given permission by the Federal Communications Commission in the US to launch its own 7,000 satellite constellation in 2018.

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This landmark government investment marks the start of an incredibly exciting period for OneWeb and the whole UK space sector, which can play a vital role in our economic recovery. 

“Global connectivity has never been more important and there is a significant opportunity for satellite constellations to deliver a range of valuable services to consumers, businesses and government.”

The UK government will have a final say over any future sale of the company, and over future access to OneWeb technology by other countries on national security grounds.

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