Tory government splashes £400m of taxpayers’ cash on a bankrupt satellite company

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The government has taken a major stake in the failed satellite company OneWeb, in a drive to develop a sovereign UK space capability.

The UK is part of a consortium with India’s Bharti Global which won a bidding war for the company, which went bankrupt earlier this year while trying to develop a space network to deliver broadband.

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

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the UK and mobile operator Bharti are each investing 500 million US dollars (£400m), with Britain acquiring a “significant equity stake” in the company.

The deal will enable OneWeb – which has its headquarters in London – to complete the construction of a constellation of Low Earth orbit satellites providing enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “This deal underlines the scale of Britain’s ambitions on the global stage.

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“Our access to a global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect millions of people worldwide to broadband, many for the first time, and the deal presents the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK.”

In a statement, OneWeb – which has its manufacturing base in Florida – said the deal would enable the company to emerge from bankruptcy with a “robust foundation” to continue its commercial operations.

“The commitment of HMG 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.”

The 11th hour bid to acquire a stake in the firm was reportedly signed off last week by Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak.

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

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The deal will enable the company to develop technology to provide enhanced broadband and other services to mobile and fixed IT terminals in the UK and countries around the world.

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

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

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