£18m funding for OneWeb global broadband satellite constellation

The UK Space Agency has awarded £18m of European Space Agency (ESA) funding to OneWeb, a satellite startup that plans to use hundreds of satellites to provide broadband connectivity to every corner of the globe.

OneWeb
Artist’s impression of OneWeb satellite constellation. Credit: Airbus.

The company, which was founded in the US but is now registered in the UK, expects to employ up to 200 staff at it’s offices in White City, London. Working in partnership with Airbus it has already set up assembly lines in France and the US.

According to a statement from the UK Space Agency, the investment will see the group focus on technologies for the next generation of satellite payloads, ground connections and space debris removal. It will also support novel automation techniques and artificial intelligence to manage the proposed constellation of spacecraft and its interaction with terrestrial networks to realise global 5G connectivity.

OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said: “We are excited about the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to develop novel automation techniques that could help manage our constellation in future and ensure we do so safely and responsibly so that we can protect space for future generations.

The ESA funding is part of the agency’s ongoing SUNRISE project, which is exploring the use of satellites for broadband internet. “Sunrise is a prominent endeavour falling under our Satellite for 5G Initiative,” said Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications.

The first batch of 10 satellites of the OneWeb constellation are due to be launched on February 26, 2019 on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

The UK is a world leader in telecommunications satellites. Last month EUTELSAT QUANTUM, the first satellite capable of being completely reprogrammed after launch left the UK for final assembly and testing in France. And in November last year, Eutelsat and Airbus signed a new contract worth hundreds of millions of pounds that will see components and parts for two further communications satellites assembled in the UK. This means that six out of seven of the company’s next satellites will be partially built in Britain.

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