The government has led a successful bid to acquire OneWeb, which develops satellite technology in the UK and in the US.
The move signals the government’s ambition for the UK to be a pioneer in the research, development, manufacturing, and exploitation of novel satellite technologies through the ownership of a fleet of Low Earth orbit satellites.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed that the government will invest $500 (£400) million and take a significant equity share in OneWeb, which filed for bankruptcy in the USA in March. This is alongside Bharti Global Ltd, which is part of a group that controls the third largest mobile operator in the world. Bharti will provide the company commercial and operational leadership.
The deal will enable the company to complete construction of a global satellite constellation that will provide enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world.
The acquisition is part of a plan to replace the loss of the EU’s Galileo sat-nav system.
The deal also offers the UK strategic opportunities across a wide range of other applications, working with international allies.
Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, 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.”
Airbus in the UK also welcomed the outcome of the auction.
Managing Director 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.
“We look forward to supporting OneWeb in the next phase of their business and growing the UK contribution to this market-changing business.”
With a sovereign global satellite system, the UK will further develop its advanced manufacturing base, making the most of its highly skilled workforce as the hardware is further developed and equipment and services are deployed to make the most of this unique capability.
The deal is subject to US court approval and regulatory clearances and is expected to close before the end of the year.
It follows the formation of the UK’s first-ever National Space Council, announced last year and chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to consider how space policy can enhance the country’s prosperity and place in the world, as well as our wider national security interests.
Business Secretary Alok 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.”
The UK space sector has grown more than 60 per cent since 2010. The sector, which already supports £300 billion of UK economic activity through the use of satellite services, is expected to grow further as new commercial opportunities are unlocked by this agreement.
OneWeb was formed in 2012, and has been developing satellite technology from its bases both in the UK and in the United States.
The UK government will have a final say over any future sale of the company, and over future access to OneWeb technology by other countries on national security grounds.