Monday 18 February 2019 5:48 pm

UK Space Agency fires £18m into Oneweb for a global communications network in space

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The UK Space Agency has invested £18m into building a new global communications network in space, provided by Softbank-backed London satellite firm Oneweb.

Named Project Sunrise, the system will initially be comprised of around 650 satellites, before expanding to more than 900 satellites over time.

While on a visit to the European Space Agency today, science minister Chris Skidmore said the investment will put the UK "at the forefront of cutting-edge research and development".

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"The commercial potential for a cost effective worldwide telecoms satellite system is huge, and the UK space sector is playing a leading role in delivering it," he added.

London-headquartered Oneweb, which last raised funding in 2016 in the form of a $1.2bn (£928.6m) round led by Softbank, also counts Airbus, Coca-cola, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson and Qualcomm among its investors.

The firm will employ up to 200 staff at its offices in White City as part of this project, initially focusing on technologies for satellite payloads, ground connections and the removal of space debris.

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The UK Space Agency said its investment will also be put towards innovation in automation and artificial intelligence to manage the proposed network, which it hopes will bring global 5G connectivity into reality.

"Providing access to people everywhere has been the mission and vision of Oneweb since the very beginning," said Oneweb's chief executive Adrian Steckel. 

"Thanks to this support, we will focus together on next generation technologies that will be game changers for realising global 5G connectivity."

The news comes as the first batch of 10 satellites of the Oneweb network are due to be launched on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana next week.