The sale of the bankruptcy satellite company OneWeb to Bharti Global Ltd (India) and to the British government has been approved by a US bankruptcy court.
The two parties’ joint offer of $ 1 billion (£ 800 million) guarantees the company’s assets to them.
This means that OneWeb will soon be able to resume construction of a space network capable of providing broadband Internet connections in all regions of the world.
Ministers hope the resurrected business will also be able to transmit navigation signals as an alternative to the EU’s Galileo system.
Britain withdrew from its participation in the European project when it ceased to be a member state of the Union in January.
Friday’s hearing, held under the auspices of the US Bankruptcy Court for the southern district of New York, was a key procedural moment in OneWeb’s efforts to regain financial strength after running out of funds in March of this year.
The company issued a statement in which it stated, “The parties will endeavor to complete the process of selling the plan, including filing our plan and disclosure statements with the court, voting with our creditors, and seeking regulatory approval and meeting customary closing conditions, and expect the process to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2020. ”
OneWeb, headquartered in West London and parallel operations in Virginia, United States, still faces significant challenges.
The bailout presented to the New York court on Friday provides only about $ 640 million to move the business forward – after taking into account various settlement costs.
Before applying for bankruptcy protection, the company had launched 74 satellites for a designed constellation of 648.
Manufacturing the remaining spacecraft and putting them into orbit on a rocket chain will require additional investment estimated by independent analysts at around $ 2 billion. New business partners will therefore be required.
The UK government’s interest in OneWeb was made public in late June. The rationale for getting involved has attracted both support and criticism, with some describing the intervention as bold and others denouncing what they believe to be a wasted investment.
So far, ministers have revealed little of their intentions for OneWeb, although business secretary Alok Sharma told deputies this week that using the company’s constellation for satellite navigation is not its main consideration.
The greatest motivation to support OneWeb, he said, came from the desire to improve broadband Internet access in remote areas and, in strategic terms, to elevate the UK’s ambitions in space.
“I think there has been a debate around [a Global Navigation Satellite System], and that was not the reason for this particular investment. But of course, we are exploring how OneWeb… might be able to contribute to the resilience of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) in the future, “he explained during questions from the Commercial Strategies Committee. , energy and industrial (Beis) of the House of Commons.
Eyebrows have been raised over the prospect of using OneWeb for satellite navigation. The planned constellation of the company was designed for a very different purpose and adapting it to assume this additional role will not be simple.
But there is a growing interest in making PNTs at lower altitudes than has traditionally been the case with satellite systems like Galileo and the American GPS network, whose spacecraft fly more than 20,000 km away. altitude.
The OneWeb spacecraft operates at 1,200 km and satellite navigation signals transmitted from this height could potentially be stronger and more robust in the face of interference or interference efforts.
Xona Space Systems is an American start-up working to develop a PNT solution in low Earth orbit with a small constellation of 300 satellites.
It recently received pre-seed funding from the UK space-based venture capital firm Seraphim.
The company’s technical director, Tyler Reid, told BBC News this week that his patent-pending technology was aimed at achieving accuracy of the order of a centimeter – the sorting performance that will be required for autonomous cars.
“Autonomous systems depend on a specific location. To do this job and do it well, you really need to know your position right down to the paint level on the road, ”he said.
“The width of the paint on the road is 10cm and it’s really the level of interaction of these vehicles. ”
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