UK buys £400m stake in failed space startup

·2 min read
MCLEAN, VA - FEBRUARY 13: OneWeb's satellite operations center is pictured in their Tysons office. OneWeb wants to launch a constellation of thousands of satellites to beam the internet to remote parts of the world, connecting the 4 billion people who don't have broadband access. The first launch date is February 26, 2019. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
OneWeb's satellite operations centre. Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The UK government announced it will invest $500m (£400m) and take a “significant equity share” in OneWeb, a British company which develops satellite technology, as part of a consortium which also includes India’s Bharti Global.

The consortium won a bidding war for the company, which went bankrupt earlier this year while trying to develop a space network to deliver broadband.

Back in March, OneWeb said it was laying off the majority of its staff while it seeks a buyer and filing for bankruptcy protection in the US, blaming the coronavirus pandemic for its collapse.

The government explained that the deal is part of its ambitions “to join the first rank of space nations, along with our commitment to making the UK a world leader in science, research and development.”

READ MORE: OneWeb blames coronavirus as it files for bankruptcy protection in the US

Business secretary Alok Sharma said “Our access to a global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect millions of people worldwide to broadband, many for the first time, and the deal presents the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK.”

UK Ministers hope the deal will compensate for the loss of access to the EU’s Galileo programme in the wake of Brexit, according to a PA Media report.

Officials said the deal would put the UK at the “cutting-edge of the latest advances in space technology” and enable OneWeb to complete the construction of a constellation of Low Earth orbit satellites providing enhanced broadband among other services.

Meanwhile Bharti Group is the owner of Bharti Airtel in India, which has an extensive mobile broadband networks and enterprise business. OneWeb said this will act as a testing ground for its products.

Adrian Steckel, OneWeb CEO, said: “This successful outcome for OneWeb underscores the confidence in our business... with differentiated and flexible technology, unique spectrum assets and a compelling market opportunity ahead of us, we are eager to conclude the process and get back to launching our satellites as soon as possible.”

The agreement is subject to US court approval and regulatory clearances and is expected to close before the end of the year.

READ MORE: Space startup CEO: 'You need regulation' of space — there isn't 'a cop up there'