OneWeb files for bankruptcy, blames COVID-19

OneWeb satellite (OneWeb)
OneWeb, formerly WorldVu, had planned for an initial constellation of 650 satellites. (OneWeb)

OneWeb, whose mission was to bring connectivity to everyone everywhere, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just about a week after launching its latest round of satellites.

The move wasn’t entirely unexpected, as reports surfaced before the March 21 launch that a bankruptcy filing might be in the offing. In the end, the company blamed the coronavirus for upending the markets so much that it couldn’t obtain needed financing.

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 stated in a press 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.”

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The company laid off most of its employees, but is maintaining its satellite operations center for some 70 satellites that are already in orbit while the court determines the disposition of OneWeb assets, according to the company’s updated Wikipedia page.

“Today is a difficult day for us at OneWeb,” stated OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel on Friday. “Our hope is that this process will allow us to carve a path forward that leads to the completion of our mission, building on the years of effort and the billions of invested capital. 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 said it plans to use the Chapter 11 proceedings to pursue a sale of the business. The filing was made in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

RELATED: OneWeb launches 34 more satellites in mission to close digital divide

The company had demonstrated its low earth orbit (LEO) satellite system could deliver broadband speeds exceeding 400 Mbps and latency of 32 milliseconds, and it reported seeing “significant early global demand” for its services from governments and leaders in the automotive, maritime, enterprise and aviation industries.

It was just over a year ago that OneWeb announced its largest fundraising round, bringing its total funds raised to $3.4 billion. That round was led by SoftBank Group, Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies and the government of Rwanda.

Steckel was named CEO in 2018. Greg Wyler, who founded OneWeb in 2012, remained as executive chairman. 

OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus, had opened a production facility in Florida in 2019 to offer “high-volume, high-speed” fabrication of satellites. In contrast to traditional satellite manufacturing, it was using industrial-scale mass production techniques designed to reduce costs and complete up to two satellites in a single day.

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