France invests $550m in OneWeb to challenge Musk’s SpaceX FILE PHOTO: Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises. (Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
A French company backed by the government has invested $550 million in British space internet company OneWeb to challenge Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Eutelsat has paid $550m (£395m) for a 24 per cent stake in OneWeb, which was rescued by the British government last year in a joint venture with Indian telecoms giant Bharti owned by Indian entrepreneur Sunil Bharti Mittal.
The French government has a 20 per cent stake in Eutelsat and the deal is expected to be a fillip for OneWeb as it seeks European support for its satellite internet business due to go live later this year, reported The Telegraph.
OneWeb has been fighting a heated regulatory battle with SpaceX over the latter’s efforts to launch thousands of tiny satellites into space for its Starlink internet service, the report added.
SpaceX, which is run by Tesla chief Elon Musk, has recently won approval from America’s communications watchdog to send 2,814 satellites into orbit at a significantly lower altitude than previously planned.
OneWeb and others had objected to the plans, saying they might interfere with other satellite networks and increased the risk of dangerous space collisions, The Telegraph report added.
Eutelsat’s investment comes after the UK government and Bharti each paid $500m to rescue OneWeb from bankruptcy last year. The deal is expected to be approved in the second half of this year.
Following Eutelsat’s investment, the three investors will each have a 24 per cent stake, with others including SoftBank, owning smaller amounts.
Recently, Musk accused OneWeb of ‘misleading’ the public by claiming that their satellites nearly collided in orbit. SpaceX has already started providing broadband for customers in Britain using its Starlink network of satellites for £89 a month.
Starlink has a network of around 1,400 satellites operating in low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 550km. In comparison, OneWeb’s 182 satellites operate at a higher altitude of about 1,200km and must pass through Starlink’s constellation on launch.
According to reports, the company aims to expand this to 648 satellites by the end of 2021, and will have a service covering the UK, Northern Europe and Canada. The global service launch is expected in 2022.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that the latest investment marked a step forward for OneWeb’s desire to offer global broadband connectivity.
“Eutelsat brings over 40 years of experience in the global satellite industry and this exciting new partnership puts OneWeb on a strong commercial footing, and the UK at the forefront of the latest developments in low Earth orbit technology,” he told The Telegraph.