Failed satellite firm OneWeb has been offered a lifeline as it formally emerged from bankruptcy on Friday.
The UK has a “significant equity stake” in the company, as part of a consortium with India’s Bharti Global, after winning a bidding war in July.
Each party is investing 500 million US dollars (£400 million) into OneWeb in a race to beam internet access across the globe from satellites in the low Earth orbit.
Fantastic news that we've secured satellite network @OneWeb. This strategic investment will drive our space sector and put the UK at the forefront of space tech. A terrific boost to our advanced manufacturing, services and tech industries.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 20, 2020
But with only 74 satellites in orbit at present, the firm will have to play catch-up to rivals such as SpaceX’s Starlink constellation – which more than 800 satellites already in space.
OneWeb plans to launch 36 satellites in December and hopes to begin commercial connectivity services to the UK and the Arctic region in late 2021, before having a full network in 2022.
The next batch of satellites have been shipped from Florida to Vostochny as they undergo preparations for a December 17 target date.
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.”
Delighted to confirm that our acquisition of @OneWeb has completed today.
Our investment will create jobs in our strong advanced manufacturing base, and confirms our ambition to put Britain at the cutting edge of the latest advances in space technology.https://t.co/hFjnXPQDyo
— Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) November 20, 2020
The company – formed in 2012 – will continue to be headquartered in the UK, ensuring that the country is “at the forefront of a new commercial space industrial age”.
Neil Masterson, who spent 20 years working for Thomson Reuters, has also been named as the new chief executive to coincide with OneWeb’s rebirth.
“I am looking forward to helping the OneWeb team deliver and commercialise their vision to provide internet access across the globe,” Mr Masterson said.
“OneWeb has a strong social purpose to improve the world’s access to information, which I share.
“It has great talent, a compelling commercial opportunity, and is supported by committed and knowledgeable owners and investors.
“Our December launch puts the UK firmly in the global space business, alongside acknowledged Indian telecoms experts, Bharti Global.
“OneWeb will be a model for responsible co-operation in space.”