Is OneWeb the Best Remaining Option to Support UK’s Space Ambitions?

30th Sep 2020
Galileo Satellite

The official decision to scrap the plan of developing a British version of the EU’s GPS satellite constellation has attracted varied opinions from various administration quarters. Some officials are pressurising the government to consider re-joining the EU’s Galileo GPS, which the UK government froze in the eve of Brexit talks. After the government has officially confirmed its stand on the issue, the UK Space Agency will imminently announce the GNSS project that was initiated in 2011. 

The project was to cost taxpayers around €92 million. Also, the agency will be testing and evaluating various alternatives to the sovereign location based system. One of the leading alternatives is satellite deployment from OneWeb. By adopting this alternative only, the UK Space Agency would require about £400 million to rescue the government from its potential blushes.

Revamping OneWeb

The option that is at the centre of the discussion is the revamping of OneWeb. The UKSA is contemplating the validity of financing OneWeb – a decision bound to trigger different opinions from agency officials and government representatives. Initially, the UK Space Agency executives and specialists rejected the prospects of investing in OneWeb, citing problems of signal interference and the inability to carry heavy atomic clocks appropriate for accurate time signals.

As the specialists and officers claimed, the idea to revamp OneWeb’s broadband satellites would be complex and costly. For instance, a study equivalent to the EU’s Galileo and the US GPS, that incorporated robust orbital satellites projected that the cost of revamping the company would settle between £3bn and £5bn.

What Is the Way Forward?

The UKSA is drafting various strategies to steer the country’s astronomical ambition by re-engineering options for OneWeb. For instance, the agency is projecting on a cheaper alternative that includes using geographical satellites to provide geolocational information. Such an option is cheaper since it requires a fewer number of spacecrafts in order to provide relevant information about the Earth’s surface.

The UK Space Agency is contemplating structuring safe and precise location systems amid the advancements such as autonomous vehicles, boats, and the prospect of foreign nations and criminals capitalizing on GPS loopholes. Consequently, the UK government has agreed to acquire over 45% of the shares from OneWeb, a company that went bankrupt in March. The acquisition will happen in partnership with India’s Bharati Global.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategies, all these efforts aggregate the UK’s government’s determination to establish sovereign space programs that would provide long-term strategic and commercial benefits to the country.

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