OneWeb, a satellite internet startup, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
The London-based OneWeb announced the bankruptcy filing late Friday (March 27) after Softbank, its largest investor, nixed a request for additional funding, according to media reports. The company is also laying off some employees as it seeks to restructure its business.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process while the Company’s remaining employees are focused on responsibly managing our nascent constellation and working with the Court and investors,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a press release announcing the bankruptcy filing.
Steckel cited the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the Chapter 11 filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York’s Southern District.
“Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis,” Steckel said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere.”
In the news release, OneWeb representatives said the company had been seeking new funding since the start of 2020, but was unable to finalize the deal.
“Since the beginning of the year, OneWeb had been engaged in advanced negotiations regarding investment that would fully fund the Company through its deployment and commercial launch,” the company said in the release. “While the Company was close to obtaining financing, the process did not progress because of the financial impact and market turbulence related to the spread of COVID-19.”
An artist’s illustration of a OneWeb satellite in orbit. (Image credit: OneWeb)
OneWeb aims to build a 650-satellite megaconstellation to provide space-based internet access to customers around the world, including remote areas that typically have not had reliable connectivity. To do that, the company seeks to mass-produce high-speed broadband internet satellites, each of which weighs 325 lbs. (147 kilograms), at its factory near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
On March 21, OneWeb launched 34 satellites into orbit on a Russian-built Soyuz rocket that lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission, provided by Arianespace, came just a month after a similar 34-satellite launch on a Soyuz from Baikonur on Feb. 6. OneWeb launched its first six satellites into orbit in February 2019.
To date, OneWeb has 74 satellites in low Earth orbit. Before Friday’s Chapter 11 filing announcement, the company had aimed to begin internet service in 2021. According to SpaceNews, OneWeb had raised $3.4 billion in funding to date, $2 billion of that from Softbank, but some outside analysts have suggested the company would need up to $7.5 billion to complete the satellite constellation.
OneWeb is not the only company aiming to provide high-speed internet access from space using a satellite megaconstellation.
The company’s chief rival SpaceX has already launched 360 of its Starlink satellites since 2019 as part of its own megaconstellation plan, a project that aims to grow to at least 12,000 satellites. Amazon and Telesat have also announced plans for internet satellite networks.
So far, SpaceX is the only other company to have begun megaconstellation launches. The company has said it aims to begin internet service later this year.