UK government takes $500 million stake in space exploration firm OneWeb

The UK is spending $500m (£400m) on a stake in failed satellite firm OneWeb as part of a plan to replace use of the EU’s Galileo sat-nav system.

OneWeb went bankrupt in March while trying to build a spacecraft network to deliver broadband. The UK is part of a consortium with India’s Bharti Global which won a bidding war for the company.

OneWeb is one of several companies working on an Internet-from-space project, using a combination of low-altitude satellites to beam internet connectivity to ground terminals on Earth’s surface. It was slated to launch a constellation of 650 spacecraft, and its plans included providing internet coverage for the Arctic. So far, it has launched 74 satellites for the project.

Friday’s deal with the UK, which gives the country a 20 percent stake, will allow OneWeb to complete construction of the satellite constellation, the government said in a statement, “making the UK a world leader in science, research and development.” UK Secretary of State for Business Alok Sharma said the deal “presents the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK.” The UK lost access to the European Union’s Galileo satellite system in 2018 as part of its departure from the EU, and the UK’s plans to build its own global navigation satellite system are on hold due to cost concerns.

Managing Director of Airbus Richard Franklin said: “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.

OneWeb’s statement on Friday said Bharti Airtel’s networks would in future act as the testing ground for all the satellite company’s new products, services, and applications.

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