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U.K. Picks Ex-Reuters COO to Lead OneWeb as it Exits Bankruptcy

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Thomas Seal and Alex Morales
·2 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- OneWeb emerged from bankruptcy under new management after the British government completed its acquisition of the troubled satellite operator, signaling a more interventionist industrial strategy after Brexit.

The $1 billion deal concluded after clearing regulatory hurdles, the company said in a statement. The conclusion of the transaction was reported earlier by Bloomberg. Former Thomson Reuters Corp. Chief Operating Officer Neil T Masterson will be Chief Executive Officer, and OneWeb set a target date to resume launches on Dec. 17.

The U.K. in July teamed up with an arm of Indian telecommunications tycoon Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises Ltd. to win an auction for the bankrupt company. In an extremely rare step, the U.K. took a so-called golden share to grant it veto powers over future investments in the company and access to its technology. It pushed the buyout through quickly in the face of concern among civil servants that the investment could sour.

“This strategic investment demonstrates government’s commitment to the U.K.’s space sector in the long term and our ambition to put Britain at the cutting edge of the latest advances in space technology,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma said in the statement. “This deal gives us the chance to build on our strong advanced manufacturing and services base in the U.K., creating jobs and technical expertise.”

OneWeb was founded in 2012 to build a constellation of small satellites beaming 4G-like internet connections to isolated places from a low-earth orbit. It raised $3.4 billion from Softbank Group Corp., Airbus SE and other big names, but lead investors pulled their money at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The company may find it easier to turn a profit now that billions of dollars in initial spending have been written off in the bankruptcy.

New co-owner Bharti has more than 400 million customers and wants to use OneWeb to connect people in remote locations. It currently has 74 satellites in space, of an initial planned constellation of about 650. The planned December launch will take that total to 110.

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