Internet startup OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, less than a week after it successfully launched 34 satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The eighth-year-old firm, which previously raised in excess of $3.4 billion over the course of multiple funding rounds, blamed the move on the unexpected coronavirus pandemic and the economic uncertainty it’s now causing the world over.
Internet from the skies comes crashing down
Early this year, OneWeb’s principal investor Softbank refused to provide additional funding after it already invested almost $2 billion into the British startup. Subsequently, the company tried but failed to attract new investors. OneWeb claims it was “close to obtaining financing” necessary to secure its future but its efforts on that front ultimately fell through once the COVID-19 crisis took over the planet.
Founded in London in 2012, OneWeb aimed to build a 648-satellite constellation. Positioned in a circular Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 1200 kilometers, its satellites would provide internet broadband access to users all over the world. OneWeb mass-produced small satellites, weighing some 147 kilos, at a factory near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its first six satellites were launched at the Centre Spatial Guyanais in the French Guiana in February 2019. Another 68 units were put into orbit from Baikonur last week. The goal was to assemble the entire mega-constellation by 2021.
OneWeb fired most of its 531 employees before filing for bankruptcy. The company owns 74 satellites in orbit and has around 22 ground stations either completed or developed. Additionally, it successfully demonstrated its system with broadband speeds of over 400 Mbps and a respectable 32ms latency which isn’t exactly 5G-level of performance but it’s still a notable achievement for such a modest network of floating infrastructure.
OneWeb may be on its way out, but the space internet concept is far from abandoned. Since its first launch in May 2019, SpaceX has placed 360 Starlink satellites into orbit. If anything, Elon Musk’s company’s project is even more ambitious, aiming to eventually launch at least 12,000 internet-enabling satellites.