As part of a consortium with Indian telecom Bharti Global, the British government will invest $ 500 million and take a “significant share” in space exploration company OneWeb, it announced Friday. OneWeb, headquartered in the UK, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March in the US after it was unable to obtain financing. Bharti Global will also invest $ 500 million as part of the deal.
OneWeb is one of many companies working on an internet-from-space project, using a combination of low-altitude satellites to send internet connectivity to ground terminals on the Earth’s surface. It was planned to launch a constellation of 650 spacecraft, and plans include providing Arctic internet coverage. To date, it has launched 74 satellites for the project.
Friday’s deal with the UK, which gives the country a 20 percent stake, will enable OneWeb to complete the construction of the satellite constellation, the government said in a statement, “making the UK a world leader in science , research and development.” British Secretary of State Alok Sharma said the deal “offers the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base 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 one yourself the global navigation satellite system is on hold due to cost issues.
OneWeb said in a statement Friday that the company wanted to resume operations as soon as possible.
However, news of the OneWeb deal has been criticized by some space experts in the UK. Dr. Bleddyn Bowen, space policy expert at Leicester University, told The Guardian that the deal amounted to “screwing an unproven technology to a mega constellation designed to do something different”. OneWeb’s satellites are in orbit, but most other countries’ GPS systems are in orbit, The Guardian noted.
The deal is subject to approval by the U.S. regulator and is expected to close before the end of the year.