The United Kingdom led a consortium of investors in resurrecting British satellite firm OneWeb Global Ltd from bankruptcy with an investment injection of more than $1 billion.
Founded in 2012, OneWeb sought to provide internet services to "everyone, everywhere" by providing internet connections to rural and remote places.
On Friday, the consortium consisting of the British government and India's Bharti Global won the auction as the highest bidder to purchase OneWeb. The firm once considered itself a viable competitor to the Starlink satellite mega constellation being assembled by SpaceX.
The British government and Bharti will invest up to $500 million each for a combined investment of $1 billion. In addition, the UK will take a 20% ownership stake in the new OneWeb. The Bharti Group is the third largest mobile operator in the world with over 425 million customers.
UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the government's investment will help deliver the "first UK sovereign space capability." He also said the deal emphasizes the scale of Britain's ambitions on the global stage.
He said Britain's 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."
Sharma hopes the OneWeb constellation will provide the UK with a precise Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) service that might replace the Galileo satellite system operated by the European Union. Brexit means the UK will no longer have access to Galileo.
When it folded March 27, OneWeb had managed to launch only 74 of its planned 648 satellites. OneWeb filed for bankruptcy after failing to raise more money from lead investor, SoftBank Group Corporation of Japan.
Bankruptcy forced OneWeb to fire 85% of its 531 employees. The consortium's investment will allow OneWeb to rehire its sacked employees.
It will also allow OneWeb to resume the manufacture and launch of its small satellites. The smallsats, which have a mass of 150 kg, are currently made in Florida in partnership with European aerospace giant Airbus.
OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said the company is delighted to have concluded the sale process. He said the new investment will benefit OneWeb's existing creditors, its employees, vendors, commercial partners, and supporters worldwide.
Satellite industry experts believe OneWeb will need at least $3 billion more to bring its full constellation into operation. OneWeb might even need more than that once it begins competing against Starlink, which has now placed some 500 of its small internet satellites in orbit and looks to begin limited commercial operations by 2022.