OneWeb plans to spend £2.2bn to move its manufacturing from the US to the UK in a boost to Britain’s space industry.
The UK is seen as a global leader in small satellites, with bases in Scotland and the south of England.
OneWeb says it plans to have a network of 588 satellites in space by the middle of next year, enough to provide global internet coverage.
The UK Government paid $500m to rescue OneWeb from bankruptcy last year, along with the Indian telecoms company Bharti Global.
The British taxpayers’ stake has since been reduced to 24pc due to further investments from other parties, however, the UK Government retains a ‘golden share’ that gives it a final say over other countries accessing its technology.
The move from the US will make this one of Britain’s biggest space projects and could result in OneWeb splitting from Airbus, its existing manufacturing partner, with which the company operates a manufacturing joint venture in Florida, USA.
Chris McLaughlin, OneWeb’s head of government affairs said it would start work next year on a UK manufacturing programme before starting to build British made satellites by 2025.
Mr McLaughlin told MPs on the House of Commons science and technology committee that OneWeb would build the second generation of its satellites in Britain. He said:
“By 2024-25 we will be building in the UK.”
According to the company, the satellites have a lifespan of six to seven years and they are already working on a second generation that could provide additional services such as satellite navigation signals.
OneWeb is working with BT on launching a satellite internet service in the UK next week, and is currently testing its services in Alaska.