OneWeb Launches More Satellites, Despite Bankruptcy Report

OneWeb has launched yet more satellites into orbit, as it races Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build the world’s first high-speed, satellite-based broadband network.

The London-based firm revealed that a Soyuz rocket lifted off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Saturday, carrying 34 more satellites into orbit.

Last month OneWeb had launched 34 satellites into orbit to join the first six broadband satellites in February 2019. It intends to build an initial network of 650 satellites around the world operating at 1,200km above the earth.

OneWeb launch

These latest launch bring the total OneWeb constellation to 74 satellites.

When its network is completed (sometime in late 2021), it intends to offer Internet access initially in the Northern hemisphere, before rolling it out globally.

Unlike SpaceX, OneWeb intends to sell its connectivity services to governments and corporate customers that provide internet service to airplanes, ships and boats.

It will eventually sell bandwidth to consumer-facing internet providers

“This third successful launch is another proof point of the rapid progress OneWeb has made over the past year,” said the firm in a statement.

It said the current global health and economic crisis underscores the tremendous need and demand for connectivity, especially for rural and under-connected communities worldwide.

“We are very proud of the progress we have made so far in 2020 and I would like to show the utmost gratitude for the time, effort, and expertise of the OneWeb company, our partners and our people as we come together and support one another,” said Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb.

“In these unprecedented times following the global outbreak of Covid-19, people around the world find themselves trying to continue their lives and work online,” said Steckel. “We see the need for OneWeb, greater now more than ever before.”

“The crisis has demonstrated the imperative need for connectivity everywhere and has exposed urgent shortcomings in many organisations’ connectivity capabilities,” said Steckel. “Our satellite network is poised to fill in many of these critical gaps in the global communications infrastructure.”

Bankruptcy protection?

But launching satellites is an expensive business. OneWeb had previously raised a total of $3.4 billion (£2.63bn) in private funding in March 2019, but that may not be enough.

Last week Bloomberg reported that OneWeb was allegedly mulling a possible bankruptcy filing.

OneWeb is reportedly taking this action to address a cash crunch as it grapples with high costs and stiff competition, Bloomberg cited people with knowledge of the preparations as its source.

The company is reportedly considering seeking court protection even as it continues to review possible out-of-court alternatives, Bloomberg reported its sources as saying.

A spokesperson for OneWeb reportedly declined to comment.

Last August OneWeb denied Russia had refused to allow it to deploy its satellite-based broadband service in that country.

It said that it had submitted, but then withdrawn an application, to use radio frequencies in Russia.

Stiff competition

But there is little doubt that OneWeb is facing stiff competition.

Rival SpaceX is also building its own constellation of internet satellites, and hopes to begin offering its Starlink broadband service to US customers on a regional basis in mid-2020, providing it can place enough satellites into orbit in time.

Last week SpaceX launched another 60 broadband satellites to bring its total for the Starlink network to 182 satellites.

Other companies racing to construct satellite-based broadband networks include Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which intends to deploy a 3,200-satellite network known as Project Kuiper.

Other players include Kepler, LeoSat and Telesat Canada.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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