UK and Bharti take control of failed satellite firm OneWeb

A rocket carrying OneWeb satellites blasts off from a launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome

Credit:  REUTERS/ ROSCOSMOS

OneWeb emerged from bankruptcy on Friday after a consortium led by the British government completed its acquisition of the troubled satellite operator. 

The Government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global have both put $500m (£400m) into the London business, which aims to beam internet signals from a constellation of hundreds of satellites. 

The deal means the UK will go head-to-head with Brussels and billionaire tycoon Elon Musk in the scramble to design an alternative to the aging GPS navigation system.

OneWeb claims its on track to offer internet services in the UK next year and globally in 2022.

"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," said Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary.

"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."

Neil Masterson, a former co-chief operating officer at Thomson Reuters, has been appointed as OneWeb’s new chief executive. Adrián Steckel, the company’s former CEO, will continue to serve as an adviser to the board.

The $1bn bid by the UK government and Bharti Global, an arm of Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises, was made in July after OneWeb went bankrupt in March. In an extremely rare step, the UK took a so-called golden share to grant it veto powers over future investments in the company and access to its technology.

It pushed the buyout through quickly in the face of concern among civil servants that the investment could sour.

OneWeb’s planned network of at least 650 satellites orbiting 750 miles above the earth could also unlock ultra-high speed broadband connections for 60,000 homes in isolated rural areas, as well as turbocharging the country’s efforts to roll out 5G mobile internet.

New co-owner Bharti has more than 400 million customers and wants to use OneWeb to connect people in remote locations.

The company had launched 74 satellites before it was forced to file for bankruptcy. It plans to launch 36 more satellites on December 17, bringing its in-orbit fleet to 110 satellites.

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