OneWeb eyes merger with Eutelsat amid SpaceX Starlink expansion

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches the OneWeb 13 mission from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, on Feb. 10, 2022.
An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches the OneWeb 13 mission from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, on Feb. 10, 2022. (Image credit: Arianespace/YouTube)

Space satellite operators OneWeb and Eutelsat are planning a merger.

The two entities announced a memorandum of understanding Tuesday (July 26) to combine as a single satellite service provider. It would also bring together OneWeb's low-Earth orbit satellites with Eutelsat's geostationary fleet as a multi-orbit conglomerate.

The enhanced fleet would "deliver to our customers solutions to their needs across an even wider range of applications," Dominique D’Hinnin, Eutelsat's chair, said in a joint statement (opens in new tab) by the companies.

The move comes as key competitor SpaceX rapidly ramps up its now nearly 3,000-satellite Starlink broadband constellation with five launches in July so far. By comparison, OneWeb has 428 satellites (opens in new tab) in orbit and Eutelsat lists 36 (opens in new tab).

The proposal, which requires approval from Eutelsat shareholders and regulators, is not the first time OneWeb has pivoted its operations in recent years. 

OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2020, shortly after the pandemic erupted and a key investor pulled out. It re-emerged under new ownership between the British government and the Indian telecom firm Bharti Global, ratcheting down how many satellites the startup planned to launch.

The Paris-headquartered Eutelsat bought nearly a quarter of OneWeb's shares in April 2021 in a larger move to boost internet connectivity as TV subscriptions decline, according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab)

A Soyuz laden with OneWeb satellites was pulled off the pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. (Image credit: Roscosmos via Twitter)

In essence, the agreement would see Eutelsat take over OneWeb while preserving priority voting rights with the British government. The transaction values OneWeb at $3.4 billion, with a value of Eutelsat share including dividends estimated at $12.

The memorandum was approved unanimously by the boards of directors of the two companies, and several long-term investors on both sides support the move, according to the statement.

Eutelsat said it will hold a shareholder meeting in the first half of 2023 to vote on the matter. No timeline has been released on the regulatory approval, but the companies said they plan to complete the merger around mid-2023. Eutelsat CEO Eva Berneke would be CEO of the combined company, while chair D'Hinnin would be chair of the new board of directors. 

In September 2021, Eutelsat's board turned down (opens in new tab) an unsolicited $3.2 billion takeover offer from Patrick Drahi, a billionaire best known for founding telecommunications group Altice.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace