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OneWeb – Covering the Earth

OneWeb is accelerating in all sorts of impressive directions – clever orbits, optimised performance/cost business model, challenging the biggest players and expanding into new payloads, services, and capabilities. But will the UK Government seize the opportunity on a plate or will OneWeb follow other previous Great British inventions – overseas to be industrialised and monetised to the benefit of others. The next 12 months are crucial, if indeed we have that long; the clarity of leadership and charisma of a champion is now desperately needed.

Christened in the Channel Islands to a Luxembourg parent with a focus on satellite communications, OneWeb’s journey has been anything but straightforward since 2012. The kernel of its plans were to disrupt space-based communications with low cost, low weight, low altitude satellites and to reach the entire Globe, not just the High to mid latitudes. Weathering bankruptcy, refinancing, state capture, confiscation, Covid and the Ukraine war, OneWeb’s journey has proven that an outstanding idea, good people, and tenacity usually prevail. With very few launches to follow, ‘Generation I’ has all but met its design destination – 650 satellites in 12 planes at 1200km offering jitter-free, broadband internet to every corner of the Globe. What’s not to like.

Restless, driven and innovating at every turn, OneWeb’s plans for Generation II are moving fast. There are clear market segments to continue to dominate, technology to assimilate, and risks to attenuate. The Generation II opportunities include: a dedicated, secure, Global and sovereign satellite communication architecture; a national fall-back PNT capability; a platform for international Earth Observation collaboration; and potentially a test bed for novel and emerging capabilities – quantum gravity sensing or potentially quantum key encryption. If we could harness half this, it would deliver something that is truly impressive, inspiring, and as good as anything being developed on the Continent. But OneWeb cannot bring this together, such is the fractured nature of Space cash across Whitehall, but Government can.

But a UK Government controlling position, gifted to it as a golden share in the 2020 bankruptcy buy-out, is thus far absent. If this does not materialise, there is already more than a whiff of Parisian interest in acquiring the very locus owned in Whitehall, through clever acquisition, to the betterment and advancement of our neighbours. Without a signal, OneWeb will close out on requirements and design in the next few months to meet its 2025/2026 launch windows and the opportunity of the moment and requirement will pass us by. So, it is now urgent that the Government acts to secure this gigantic national opportunity by bringing interests (and banging heads) together to find the optimum mix of capability, risk, cash, and time.

We need to act now to mobilise a Great British company and demonstrate leadership in this growing sector.

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