The UK Space Agency announced it awarded satellite broadband provider OneWeb with $23.5 million through the European Space Agency (ESA). Funding from other European countries may be in the pipeline.
OneWeb’s 650 Phase One satellites will provide global satellite broadband, with the first six satellites currently expected to launch on February 26. As a UK-based business, OneWeb will employ up to 200 staff in London.
Funding as a part of OneWeb’s Sunrise program be used to focus on technologies for the next generation of satellites, ground connections, and space debris removal. The UK investment will also support “novel automation techniques and artificial intelligence to manage the proposed constellation of spacecraft and its interaction with terrestrial networks to realise global 5G connectivity,” according to a statement issued by the UK government. Given the large number of satellites in orbit, AI and machine learning are expected to play a key role in managing OneWeb’s constellation.
ESA’s telecommunications research program ARTES runs the agency’s Satellite for 5G Initiative. The ESA project includes seven nations, with Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Space and Switzerland expected to allocate funding in the future. Up to 12 countries may participate in the future.
Government R&D funding isn’t solely limited to OneWeb. SpaceX was awarded a $28.7 million Air Force contract in December 2018 to support experiments in commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) based data connectivity. Telesat Canada has won $2.8 million funding from DARPA as a part of a study of low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations and will have access to government funding of around $100 million (CAN) over the next five years to support rural broadband communications.