News | Published July 05 2020

UK government wins OneWeb bid

The UK government has taken a £400 million [$500 million] stake in bankrupt satellite firm OneWeb as it plans to replace the EU Galileo sat-nav system when the UK’s membership of it ends in January 2021.

The UK was successful in its bid for the company as part of a consortium with Indian business Bharti Global.

The OneWeb firm, headquartered in London with parallel operations running from the US, ran out of money in March in the midst of a construction project for a spacecraft network which would help deliver broadband.

The acquisition is subject to a ruling from the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, which is due to be delivered on July 10.

Should the Bharti Global led option be passed, then the UK government will take a 45 per cent equity stake in the business.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said that the acquisition of OneWeb would help establish the “first UK sovereign space capability”.

Sharma said: "This deal underlines the scale of Britain's ambitions on the global stage.

"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."

Meanwhile, OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said: "We are delighted to have concluded the sale process with such a positive outcome that will benefit not only OneWeb's existing creditors, but also our employees, vendors, commercial partners, and supporters worldwide who believe in the mission and in the promise of global connectivity."

The UK government has lined up satellites a solution to meeting its targets on the rolling-out of super-fast broadband, but it also sees the OneWeb satellite network as having potential to deliver a new sat-nav service, which will be essential after the post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31, 2020, ceasing the UK’s membership of Europe’s Galileo sat-nav system.

OneWeb had raised £2.4 billion [$3 billion] toward its satellite network, which saw 74 satellites launched in a planned network of 648 before the company announced it would divert to bankruptcy protection. Experts have said that around double that amount was required to fully build and switch on the network, with the firm pinning the blame on the Covid-19 crisis for being unable to raise additional funds.

Should the consortium operation not be subject to any regulatory hindrances, OneWeb can begin to re-recruit staff and resume the construction and launching of satellites.

The spacecraft were previously being built in the US state of Florida in partnership with European aerospace firm Airbus, but some production could be moved to the UK under the new deal.

Airbus reacted warmly to the OneWeb sale, with managing director Richard Franklin saying: "The UK government's vision in backing this project will drive innovation and new ways of thinking about how space can contribute even more to the UK economy, and the country's defence requirements, as well as playing a part in delivering broadband internet to communities across the country.

"We look forward to supporting OneWeb in the next phase of their business and growing the UK contribution to this market-changing business."

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 05 2020

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