The UK Space Agency awarded £18 million to OneWeb to fund development of a range of satellites designed to deliver affordable internet connectivity and, eventually, bring 5G technology to more people.

In a statement, the agency said the investment forms part of a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and will 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.”

OneWeb wants to set up a global communications network comprising around 650 satellites initially. In time, it aims to scale to more than 900 birds.

The first batch of ten satellites are due to be launched on a rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana next week.

OneWeb also has a programme called Sunrise which will focus on technologies for the next generation of satellite payloads, ground connections and space debris removal.

Magali Vaissiere, ESA director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, explained Sunrise “is a prominent endeavour falling under our Satellite for 5G Initiative” which complements terrestrial networks with satellites “to ensure a successful and fully-inclusive digitalisation of industry and society.”

In 2018, OneWeb CCO Vivek Jhamb told Mobile World Live that without satellite networks to extend access where it is not economically or technically feasible for terrestrial networks to operate, “5G cannot be fully integrated into society and business the way it is currently imagined”.