LEO satellite ventures OneWeb, Lightspeed score new investments

LEO space ventures are heating up, with new investments for both Telesat Lightspeed and OneWeb. (Getty Images)

OneWeb and Telesat’s Lightspeed, two low Earth-orbit (LEO) satellite broadband ventures, each announced significant new investments Thursday.

South Korea’s Hanwha Systems has invested $300 million in OneWeb for an 8.8% equity stake, joining India’s Bharti Enterprise and the U.K. government as backers. Other investors include Japan’s SoftBank Group and satellite service provider Hughes network Systems.

Meanwhile, Lightspeed is getting a new C$1.44 billion boost from the Canadian government, including a $790 million loan and a $650 million preferred equity investment.

OneWeb

Since OneWeb exited bankruptcy protection last November it now counts total equity investment of $2.7 billion inclusive of Hanwha – which is expected to close in the first half of 2022.  

OneWeb will appoint a board of director to represent Hanwha’s share once the transaction is complete.

Hanwha Systems is a technology provider focused on defense electronics and information infrastructure, including aerospace tech for South Korea’s military. Hanwha Group’s history has ties to Samsung, having acquired four affiliates of the company’s chemical and defense units in 2015.  

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OneWeb said the South Korean Fortune 500 tech and manufacturing company brings additional defense capabilities and antenna technologies, as well as relationships to government customers and greater geographical reach.

So far, OneWeb’s launched 254 satellites into orbit. The company expects to start delivering services from the 50th parallel and above by the end of this year.

Plans call for 648 satellites in its first-generation fleet needed for global coverage by the end of 2022, which is now fully funded.

REALTED: OneWeb launches 36 more satellites for LEO broadband fleet

“We are pleased to join hands with OneWeb, which has strength in the LEO communication area, the core of space business,” said Youn Chul KIM, president, CEO and director at Hanwha Systems, in a statement. “To OneWeb ‘s vision of connecting all the people across the globe, Hanwha System’s satellite and antenna technology will bring more advantages."

U.K. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in a statement pointed to the investment as further evidence of market confidence in OneWeb.

“Today’s $300m investment in OneWeb by Hanwha is the latest in a series of votes of confidence in the company from the market. It’s clear that leading global investors see a promising future for this ground-breaking company and a robust commercial case for investment,” Kwarteng stated. “The Government’s equity stake in OneWeb not only allows the UK to capitalize on our first-mover advantage to deploy low Earth orbit technology but will put our country at the forefront of the small satellite market, which is set to rapidly expand over the years ahead.”

RELATED: OneWeb aims to capitalize on telco, government connections

In April, CEO Neil Materson cited a number of potential use cases, including community broadband, corporate Wi-Fi, backhaul and emergency and redundant connectivity. For telcos and broadband, OneWeb is looking to service provider customers, by supplementing rather than replacing existing terrestrial coverage.

Telesat’s Lightspeed

With Telesat Lightspeed’s new investment from Canada, the program has approximately $4 billion in funding, including a roughly $1.7 billion cash contribution from Telesat (with proceeds from C-band clearing in the U.S. part of the mix), and about $400 million from the Government of Quebec.

As part of the government’s new investment announced today, Telesat is committed to investing $1 billion in capex for its initial LEO constellation, and the lesser of C$2.6 billion or 50% of certain capital spending for its next constellation.

RELATED: TIM Brasil cites promise for Telesat LEO after 4G backhaul tests

The satellite company also pledged to add 700 full time Canadian employees, and support students with cooperative opportunities and scholarships, with an emphasis on women in STEM programs.

Other Canadian governments, such as Ontario, have put financial support behind Lightspeed, while securing commitments to help boost connectivity in the region.

“Now is the time to bolster Canada’s position as a global leader in the new space economy,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, in a statement. “Through its partnership with Telesat, our government is creating more high-skilled jobs, enabling innovation and helping to unlock economic and social opportunities in Canada’s most rural and remote communities. Every Canadian should have access to affordable high-speed Internet. Today, we took a big step towards making that happen.”

Lightspeed’s initial LEO network consists of 298 satellites, with service expected to start in the first half of 2024.

RELATED: Telesat wins $86M for next-gen LEO expansion in Ontario

Rather than going direct-to-consumer with service in rural areas (like SpaceX’s Starlink), Telesat is targeting enterprise with Lightspeed, including telecom and mobile operators, as well as government, maritime and aeronautical customers. Successful 4G mobile backhaul tests over LEO were completed with network operator TIM in Brazil earlier this summer, using a Lightspeed phase 1 satellite.