European satellite operator Eutelsat Communications has exercised an option to buy more shares in broadband satellite business OneWeb for $165m.
The deal takes Eutelsat’s holding from 17.6 pecent to 22.9 per cent and makes it the second largest shareholder behind Bharti at 30 percent. The transaction was on the same terms as it initial investment of $550m completed on 8 September. The UK government owns 19.3 percent of OneWeb after teaming with Bharti to rescue the company from bankruptcy.
The company plans a beta service next month with full roll out in 2022.
However the stake has raised questions with the EU which has launched a new space strategy. “We took good note of their decision to participate in a project that is in direct competition with the European initiative,” said Thierry Breton, who oversees the U’s technology policy, when the first stake was announced earlier this year. “ I do not see how, structurally, an entity can have stakes in two competing projects.”
At the same time the EU space strategy also calls for a new space launcher that would compete with ArianeSpace, which is launching the OneWeb satellites.
The next Arianespace mission is planned from Vostochny Cosmodrome with Soyuz on October 14th to deliver 36 OneWeb satellites into low earth orbit, bringing the constellation to 358 satellites, ove half the total. The satellites are built by OneWeb Satellites in Florida, US, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space.
This is the 61st launch of Soyuz by European operator Arianespace and the 11th for OneWeb.
OneWeb has also seen an additional $500m from Bharti completing the funding of its first-generation constellation and $300m backing from South Korea’s Hanwha.
“The significant progress it has made in the run-up to its now imminent entry into service, together with the vote of confidence demonstrated by the commitment of both its investors and future customers, makes us even more convinced of OneWeb’s right-to-win in the low earth orbit (LEO) constellation segment,” said Rodolphe Belmer, CEO of Eutelsat.
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