Troubled UK satellite firm OneWeb is back from the brink, with a $1bn investment from the UK government and India’s Bharti Global. The consortium has taken over the business and has already begun to restart operations despite finalizations of the deal still a couple of weeks away. The next batch of satellites are already in Russia, awaiting a launch in mid-December.
OneWeb is back
Back from the brink this week is UK-based satellite company OneWeb. Having entered bankruptcy earlier this year, ownership has now transferred to a new company, with principal shareholders being the UK government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global.
The new company will acquire all of the assets of OneWeb, including the 74 already launched low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. With this, the company is now in a position to move forward with more launches and the resumption of manufacturing to get it closer to its goal of an initial 648 satellite LEO constellation.
Fantastic news that we've secured satellite network @OneWeb. This strategic investment will drive our space sector and put the UK at the forefront of space tech. A terrific boost to our advanced manufacturing, services and tech industries.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 20, 2020
Bharti and the UK government are both injecting $500m into the new venture. The formal documents are due to be signed on November 30th, with the final court hearing taking place on December 3rd. The UK’s Business Secretary Alok Sharma commented on the investment, saying,
“This strategic investment demonstrates the 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.
“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.”
Despite the hiccup to its operations, the company is still on track to begin commercial service in 2021 to the UK and the Arctic, expanding this globally by 2022.
More satellites launching next month
As business resumes, the company is making preparations to launch a further 36 satellites in December, taking its orbital fleet to around 110 units. The next 36 satellites have already been dispatched from its Florida factory, on their way to Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome.
Time to load up! 36 OneWeb satellites are safely packed and leaving the @OneWebSatellit1 factory heading to the tarmac where they will be loaded on to a plane to depart for our next launch. Follow along for more updates –#OneWebLaunch. pic.twitter.com/VqI4FOx0YW
— OneWeb (@OneWeb) November 17, 2020
The shipment left Florida onboard an Antonov An-124 operated by Volga-Dnepr Airlines last week. It set off from the Shuttle Landing Facility (QQS) at 16:48 local time, arriving in Goose Bay (YYR) for a technical stop at 21:42.
They are off! 36 OneWeb satellites have taken-off from Florida to Vostochny, for our launch in December. Congrats to the whole team – OneWeb, @OneWebSatellit1, & our whole supply chain who worked incredibly hard to deliver us to this milestone. We are growing again. #OneWebLaunch pic.twitter.com/EWQAqOju8r
— OneWeb (@OneWeb) November 17, 2020
It took off again at 02:35 on the seven-hour flight to Moscow, where it touched down at 17:02. It took a final hop to Ignatievo airport in Blagoveshchensk, landing at 15:35 on November 19th.
The deployment will use an Arianespace Soyuz rocket, with the anticipated launch date of December 17th.
Will OneWeb still focus on aviation?
With the UK government’s investment, there could be a change of direction for OneWeb. However, past performance indicates that the aviation sector remains an important focus for the business, given than it had set up a Commercial Aviation arm just over a year ago.
Key to its future direction is the presence of Bharti Global in the consortium. The Indian conglomerate spans a wide range of sectors, including Bharti Airtel, a founder member of the Seamless Air Alliance. The alliance was formed in 2018 to smooth and standardize inflight connectivity offerings by airlines, and is still pushing forward on the world’s first IFC standard, recently completing Seamless Release 2.0.
While Chapter 11 will have forced its leaders to rethink its future direction, the likelihood that aviation continues to be a key focus is strong. Work on the phased array antenna technology is moving forward at pace, and with strong backing from its new investors, OneWeb could well become a key player in the IFC space in coming years.
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