Galileo blow: OneWeb satellites not suitable for satnav system, warns expert

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The UK, which has acquired a 45 percent share in the company, has teamed up with India’s Bharti Global, with 55 percent, with the aim to provide broadband and other services to millions across the world. The deal places Britain at the forefront of the space race to build a low orbit satellite which can provide high-speed broadband, in line with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vision.

The OneWeb satellites are not currently designed to deliver a navigation service, so are not a solution to the lack of access to Galileo

UK space sector insider

However, a UK space sector insider was quick to downplay any suggestion about the agreement paving the way for an independent GNSS similar to Galileo, which the UK is facing exclusion from at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

The source told Express.co.uk: “The OneWeb satellites are not currently designed to deliver a navigation service, so are not a solution to the lack of access to Galileo.

“The production facility developed by Airbus for OneWeb in order to build the satellites is a) largely robotic (to keep the costs down) and b) in Florida.

“For both these reasons, the claim about bringing lots of jobs to the UK is questionable in the extreme.

“Note also that, if they try to change the satellite design in order to provide a navigation service they’d have to redesign the robotic production facility, and that would not be cheap.”

With OneWeb Global Limited having filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and the deal subject to US Bankruptcy Court and regulatory approval, the insider also highlighted another potential problem further down the line.

They explained: “Having licensed OneWeb, under international treaties the UK is now legally liable for the OneWeb satellites.

“If OneWeb goes bust and abandons its hardware in space, the UK is responsible for the debris.”

In a statement issued last week to coincide with the confirmation of the deal, the UK Space Agency said it would enable the company to complete construction of a global satellite constellation which would provide enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world.

In addition, the UKSA stressed it would offer the UK “strategic opportunities across a wide range of other applications, working with our international allies” – although there was no specific mention of a GNSS.

Speaking in the Commons, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The UK has an ambition to be a world leader in the space sector.

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“GNSS wasn’t the rationale for this particular investment but of course we are exploring how OneWeb may be able to contribute to PNT resilience in the future.”

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “The government has increased ambitions for space and we are working to strengthen our national capabilities, create high-skilled jobs and drive further growth in the UK space sector.

“Now is the right time to look at new ways to use space to boost the UK’s prosperity, security and global influence, while benefitting people across the whole country.”

The OneWeb agreement secures 70 existing UK jobs, and the Government will be encouraging future roles to be based in the UK.

“The idea that Europe then fragments into two separate capabilities, going against the grain of NATO, is just madness.

“It’s got caught up with the politics of the EU.”

Mr Ellwood, who suggested a British system could cost in the region of £5billion, also urged the UK and the EU to work out a solution which would enable the UK to retain access to Galileo after the end of the year.

He added: “Galileo was an EU project but it was essentially a British project, it was Surrey Satellites and Airbus and now because of the silliness of the Brexit fallout, we are now building a rival system, at huge cost, which we simply can’t afford.”

The situation with respect to Galileo has been hugely controversial, given the UK has invested upwards of £1billion in the project, as well as being instrumental in the development of much of the associated technology.

Speaking to Express.co.uk last month, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said it would be a bad idea for the UK to commit large amounts of resources to build its own system.

He said: “With respect to the spheres of influence, the power bases the world is moving towards, you’ve got the United States, clearly, you’ve got Europe as a force for good, then you’ve got east Asia led by China, and Russia fitting in under that umbrella.

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