OneWeb satellite internet company is officially reborn

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

Publishedduration59 minutes ago

image copyrightOneWeb

image captionArtwork: The aim is to have the full satellite network in place in 2022

The OneWeb satellite operator has formally emerged from bankruptcy.

Ownership has transferred to a new company with its principal shareholders now being the UK government and the Indian conglomerate Bharti Global Ltd.

The new holding takes possession of all the operator’s assets, including the 74 satellites it has in orbit and all the ground infrastructure to support them.

It means the London-headquartered business can now crack on with building its broadband internet constellation.

This would see 648 spacecraft taken aloft to deliver connectivity to nearly all land and sea surfaces around the globe.

The next 36 satellites have already been despatched from a Florida factory to Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome for launch on a Soyuz rocket, currently scheduled for 17 December.

It’s understood the components exist for a further three batches, and the new owners have been busy in recent weeks re-establishing old supply chains to fully ramp up production to pre-bankruptcy levels.

image copyrightOneWeb

image captionThirty-six satellites have just been shipped to Russia for launch

OneWeb sought Chapter 11 protection in the US in March after its then biggest shareholder, Japanese tech funder Softbank, stepped back from further investment in the project.

The bidding process to pick up the assets, including the radio frequencies used by the constellation, was won by a consortium led by the London government and Bharti, who are both injecting $500m into the reborn venture.

The sale, which was approved by a US federal court last month, sees OneWeb resume trading with its old debts wiped out.

And Friday’s announcement of the sale’s completion is accompanied by the appointment of a new chief executive. It will be Neil Masterson, formerly the Co-Chief Operating Officer at business information provider Thomson Reuters. OneWeb’s previous CEO, the experienced telecoms executive Adrián Steckel, will continue as an adviser to the board.

Mr Masterson, who is currently based in New York, is returning to London to take up his new role.

“I am looking forward to helping the OneWeb team deliver and commercialise their vision to provide internet access across the globe,” he said in a statement.

“OneWeb has a strong social purpose to improve the world’s access to information, which I share. It has great talent, a compelling commercial opportunity, and is supported by committed and knowledgeable owners and investors.”

image copyrightOneWeb

image captionNeil Masterson has spent 20 years at Thomson Reuters in various roles

The UK government’s involvement in the company’s rescue has been a controversial one, with critics questioning why ministers would invest so much money in what remains a risky venture. Business Secretary Alok Sharma even had to issue a “ministerial direction” to push the investment forward after civil servants stated their objection.

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