Government wins majority stake in bankrupt satellite company as it attempts post-Brexit sat-nav system

PUBLISHED: 15:35 03 July 2020 | UPDATED: 21:12 03 July 2020

The purchase of OneWeb is part of government plans to boost the UK's space capacity; ESA

The purchase of OneWeb is part of government plans to boost the UK's space capacity; ESA

ESA-S.CORVAJA

The UK government has won a majority stake in a company that it hopes will manage its sat-nav system after Brexit.

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Downing Street has increased its stake in the failed satellite company, OneWeb, as part of plans to develop the country’s space capabilities.

Britain joined India’s Bharti Global to pitch for ownership of the company, which went bankrupt earlier this year in the US while trying to build a space network to deliver broadband.

Ministers hope it will make up for the loss of access to the EU’s new Galileo programme in the wake of Brexit.

MORE: UK to begin process of purchasing sat-nav system after pulling out of EU scheme

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it is jointly investing 500 million US dollars (£400 million) into the firm, with Britain acquiring a “significant equity stake” in it.

Officials said the deal would put the UK at the “cutting-edge of the latest advances in space technology”.


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It will enable OneWeb – which is headquartered in London – to complete the construction of a number of Low Earth orbit satellites providing enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world.

In a statement, the company said the deal would allow it to emerge from bankruptcy with a “robust foundation” to continue its commercial operations.


“The commitment of HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) accelerates and enhances OneWeb’s global access,” it said.


“OneWeb will contribute to the UK government’s ambition to join the first rank of space nations, along with its commitment to making the UK the world’s leader in science and research and development.”

Dominic Cumings was said to have been “instrumental” in the bid, prompting prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak to sign off the investment at the 11th hour.


Ministers are said to be now seeking to secure additional finance to revive the business which was planning to launch 650 satellites.


A Downing Street spokesman said: “The deal will support the UK to be a pioneer in the research, development, manufacturing and exploitation of novel satellite technologies, while boosting UK manufacturing.

“It will also allow the UK to explore other potential strategic opportunities working with our international allies.”

But Darren Jones, a Labour MP and chair of the Commons business select committee, ad questions. He tweeted: “The government is expected to invest £0.5bn buying a largely US-based bankrupt satellite company, in place of its original commitment to fund a UK-manufactured sovereign capability. I’ve written to the secretary of state to ask how this decision has been made.”


The deal remains subject to approval by the US Bankruptcy Court, as well as regulatory approvals.

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