The UK government says it has acquired London-based satellite operator OneWeb in a $1bn deal with an Indian mobile operator linked to an existing investor. The UK government will pay $500m for a ‘significant equity share’ alongside $500 million from Bharti Global which owns the third largest mobile phone network.
It will also set up a National Space Council, chaired by finance minister Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to look at space policy and wider national security issues. This will include manufacturing capacity and an alternative navigation data service.
Bharti will provide the OneWeb commercial and operational management and bring a revenue stream for the constellation of 648, 150kg, satellites (above) in polar low earth orbit (LEO). The company had 74 satellites in orbit before it went into Chapter 11 in the US and still needs to build and launch the others to provide a full service.
It had begun development on a range of user terminals for a variety of customer markets and has half of its 44 ground stations completed or in development.
OneWeb was looking for an additional $1bn investment to do this on top of the $3bn venture capital backing to date. The investment from the UK government and Bharti will see the venture through to an early commercial launch, but payments to the main creditor, OneWeb Global, and WorldView JV Holdings, the US-based satellite manufacturing joint venture with Airbus, will reduce that amount. The answer may lie in OneWeb’s statement that the deal is worth “more than $1bn.”