July 6, 2020

The UK government is taking a $500m stake in a bankrupt satellite company

The deal to acquire OneWeb puts the government on a collision course with Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Elon Musk has some unusual competition in the space race to improve the consumer internet.

The UK government is investing $500m and taking a 20% stake in OneWeb, a bankrupt company that wants to improve broadband connections using a constellation of low-altitude satellites. 

Your move, Elon

The deal puts the UK back in the race with Musk’s Starlink, which has launched 540 of its own internet satellites. Starlink’s goal is to expand connections in areas that are hard to reach with fiber-optic cables.

OneWeb has a lot of catching up to do. When it declared bankruptcy in March, it had launched just 74 of ~650 planned satellites.

Beyond beefing up your WiFi, there’s another reason why the UK may be getting into the satellite fight: Because of Brexit, it will no longer be involved in Galileo, the EU’s satellite navigation system.

Good news for GPS units, bad news for telescopes

Science called the revived OneWeb’s plan for a constellation of 42k satellites “the worst possible outcome for astronomers.”

Why might they be cursing the heavens? At an altitude of 1,200 kilometers, the satellite traffic threatens to make telescopic imagery blurrier than your worst selfies.

Another potential pitfall: Radio astronomers worry about chatter that could bleed onto essential frequencies — sorta like what happens when your neighbors in the apartment next door make too much noise.

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