In late March, OneWeb, one of the leading companies attempting to build a satellite mega-constellation, filed for bankruptcy and declared that it now intends to sell its business. This move put an end to the company’s plan to offer high-speed satellite Internet service around the world.
leaving uncertainty about the 74 satellites it has in orbit and its plans to provide high-speed internet from space.
Commenting on the decision, OneWeb said on March 27 that it “voluntarily filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the [US] Bankruptcy Code,” and “intends to use these proceedings to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company.”
“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,” the official realease says adding that the company was “forced to reduce our workforce.”
The company did not reveal how many people may have been laid off. However, reports say that OneWeb axed most of its staff.
OneWeb has a license from the Federal Communications Commission to launch an initial constellation of 648 low-flying satellites, to provide high-speed internet around the world to homes, boats, and planes located above the 60th parallel north latitude. 74 satellites are already in orbit. Initial services were scheduled to start in 2021.
Just in March, OneWeb successfully launched 34 satellites on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. The announced plans included providing “fiber-like internet” coverage to the Arctic sometime in 2020.
The bankruptcy filing became a result of the company’s failed attempt to secure new funding from investors including its biggest backer, SoftBank. OneWeb had previously raised $3 billion over multiple rounds of financing. However, it was still in need of more money to fund its deployment and commercial launch next year.
According to SpaceNews, OneWeb has $2.1 billion in total liabilities, including $1.7 billion in senior secured financing plus money owed to between 1,000 and 5,000 creditors. OneWeb also operates the satellite-production factory in Florida – a joint venture with Airbus.
While media reports as well as the company itself call the turbulence on the market and the COVID-19 outbreak among the key reasons of the bankruptcy, in fact the situation looks pretty strange. According to reports, OneWeb failed to secure $3.2bn in additional funding. Taking into the account the technological potential, the existing network of satellites and the already received $3bn of funding, the amount of $3.2bn is a small amount for such a project. In comparison, Elon Musk’s glamorous SpaceX is spending comparable amounts, at the same time being fully integrated into the system of the US national security. So, the real amount of the government assistance (including technologies and specialists) is much higher than SpaceX delcares publicly.
HINT: To provide a broader look at the current satellite technologies available for commercial companies it’s interesting to mention ICEYE’s in-orbit demonstration of synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) videos, acquired with ICEYE SAR satellites. The company claims that they allow to detect and analyse movement in a new way, giving insights into what is happening on the ground during a single SAR satellite pass over the location.
It’s interesting to note that OneWeb’s concept was among the key competitors to the G5 network projects developed around the world. China’s Huawei and large Western 5G provided saw its possible success as a direct threat to their interests. Therefore, it’s possible that using the ‘COVID-19 turbulence’, they exploited their levers of pressure to limit the further funding to OneWeb. Another factor is that such free and widespread cheap Internet, that cannnot be controlled by common measures of the censorship, goes contrary to the interests of the global elites that strongly rely on their ability to control communication and information flows.
One more explanation often cited by media is OneWeb’s alleged inability to deliver the claimed technology in time and within the framework of the claimed budget. Meanwhile, there are no doubts that the modern scientific though allows to build a satellite network, which OneWeb has proposed. Therefore, if this version is true, the issue should be in some engineering solutions. If such solutions were not developed, it would need much more funding to invent and test them than it requested. Furthermore, OneWeb already launched dozens satellites in orbit and was nearing the official launch. In these conditions, it becomes likely that OneWeb became a victim of its inability to incorporate itself in the existing global technological order; something what more mainstream and affiliated with governments’ companies like SpaceX and Huawei successfully do.
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