Maritime satellite communications from a new constellation is in jeopardy after the operator filed for bankruptcy
OneWeb failed to secure a new multi-billion dollar financing package to continue constructing and launching satellites. The UK-based, US-headquartered company voluntarily filed for bankruptcy protection in the US due to lack of financing. OneWeb chief executive Adrian Steckel blamed coronavirus for the company’s failure to secure this crucial funding.
It was at the early stage of building a new satellite constellation and ground-station network for maritime (and other sector) communications when it filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the US bankruptcy court for the Southern District of New York on 28 March.
OneWeb had successfully launched 74 satellites as part of its constellation. It had secured valuable global spectrum, started developing a range of maritime user terminals and completed half of its planned 44 ground stations.
OneWeb was investing around US$3.4Bn in its low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation and another US$1.2Bn in the ground stations to provide broadband speeds up to 400 Mbps and latency of 32 milliseconds to vessels. But finance was running low and more was required to complete its plans.
“We had been building a global communications network to provide high-speed low latency broadband everywhere,” said Mr Steckel. “Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process.”
Its focus is managing the nascent constellation, investors and working with the court.
In March, OneWeb head of global maritime sales Noémie de Rozieres told Maritime Optimisation & Communications OneWeb intended to operate a fleet of 650 satellites on 12 different orbital planes. These plans are back on the drawing board until new owners can be found.
Early supporters in OneWeb included Airbus, Intelsat, Bharti Enterprises, Coca Cola, Group Salinas, Hughes Network Systems, and Virgin Group.
Softbank became a major investor, and it is thought this Japanese bank failed to provide the next batch of funding, leading to OneWeb seeking bankruptcy protection.
OneWeb’s infrastructure and assets will be available to purchase. If no buyer is found, its assets, including 74 LEO satellites, will be the ultimate responsibility of the UK Government as the licensing state.
Other companies are operating or investing in LEO constellations. Iridium provides L-band communications with its Next second-generation constellation.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon were investing in LEO constellations, satellite launches and ground networks.
LEO constellations would compete with existing satellite communications in L-band, Ku-, Ka- and C-band from geostationary and medium Earth orbit satellites.