OneWeb

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OneWeb
TypePrivate
IndustrySatellite Internet access
PredecessorWorldVu Satellites
Founded2012
FounderGreg Wyler[1][2][3]
HeadquartersLondon, England, UK[4]
Area served
Global
Key people
Neil Masterson (CEO)[5]
OwnerGovernment of the United Kingdom (42.2%)
Bharti Enterprises (42.2%)
SoftBank (12.3%)
Hughes Network Systems (2.6%)[6]
Number of employees
Decrease ~80 (March 2020)
SubsidiariesOneWeb Satellites
Websitewww.oneweb.world

OneWeb (legally Network Access Associates Ltd)[7] is a global communications company building a capability to deliver broadband satellite internet services worldwide.[4][8] The company is headquartered in London, and has offices in California[9] and a satellite manufacturing facility in Florida – OneWeb Satellites – that is a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space. The company was formerly known as WorldVu Satellites Ltd.[10][11]

The company was founded by Greg Wyler in 2012[1][2][3] but entered bankruptcy in March 2020 after failing to raise the requisite capital to complete the build and deployment of the remaining 90% of the network. The company laid off approximately 85% of its approximately 500 employees, but retained the capability to control its operational satellites during the period of court protection.[12][13] The company emerged from the bankruptcy proceedings and reorganization in November 2020 with a new ownership group, led by the Government of the United Kingdom and Bharti Global, each holding 42% of the company equity and board. OneWeb re-affirmed its intent to continue to build out the satellite constellation. SoftBank retained an equity holding of 12%.[5][6] As further investments are made to complete the first phase satellite deployments, the British Government and Bharti Global percentage shareholding will decline.[14]

OneWeb commenced launches of the OneWeb satellite constellation, a network of more than 650 low Earth orbit satellites, in February 2019,[15] and by March 2020, had launched 74 of the planned 648 satellites in the initial constellation. OneWeb's goal has been to provide internet services to "everyone, everywhere", delivering internet connections to rural and remote places as well as to a range of markets. The post-bankruptcy company leadership launched an additional 36 OneWeb satellites on 18 December 2020.[5]

History[edit]

OneWeb satellite manufacturing facility in Merritt Island, Florida.

The company was founded in 2012 under the name WorldVu,[11] based in Britain's Channel Islands.[16]

In 2015, OneWeb secured US$500 million in funding, and agreed to purchase certain future launch services, from existing aerospace industry companies Arianespace and Virgin Galactic.[17][18] In June 2015, OneWeb also entered into a deal with Airbus Defence and Space for the construction of its broadband Internet satellites after a competition among American and European manufacturers.[19]

In July 2016, one year after the initial announcement, OneWeb stated they were on schedule.[20] In December 2016, OneWeb raised US$1 billion from SoftBank Group Corp. and US$200 million from existing investors.[21][22]

In February 2017, OneWeb announced that it expected to sell all of its capacity by launch time, yet the only announced capacity sold was for a joint Gogo and Intelsat venture. Wyler announced he was considering nearly quadrupling the size of the satellite constellation by adding 1972 additional satellites that it has priority rights to.[21] With the original capital raise of US$500 million in 2015, plus the US$1 billion investment of SoftBank in 2016, previous "investors committed to an additional US$200 million, bringing OneWeb's total capital raised to US$1.7 billion".[21] A merger arrangement with Intelsat that had been in negotiations during May 2017 collapsed in June 2017 and did not go forward.[23]

By 2019, OneWeb had formed a joint ventureOneWeb Satellites — with the European company Airbus Defence and Space in order to manufacturer its satellites in higher volume and at lower cost than any satellites previously built by Airbus. A manufacturing facility was built in Merritt Island, Florida. Initial satellite production at the new facility began in mid-2019 and by January 2020, the factory reached the target production rate of two satellites per day.[24]

On 27 February 2019, OneWeb successfully launched its first six satellites into 1,200 km [25] low Earth orbit from the Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guiana using a Soyuz-2 launch vehicle.[26] The same day OneWeb announced that it signed its first two client agreements marking the beginning of its commercialisation.[27] On 18 March 2019, OneWeb announced it had secured US$1.25 billion in funding following a successful first launch. The funding was from existing investors SoftBank and Qualcomm, as well as Grupo Salinas and the Government of Rwanda.[28]

By August 2019, the company had 6 of its satellites broadcasting at the right frequencies for 90 days, meeting the "use-it-or-lose-it" spectrum conditions set by the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU).[29] This secured the vital rights OneWeb needed to operate its global satellite broadband network.[16]

In February and March 2020, the company launched an additional 68 satellites to orbit, stating that it would slow down for a minor design modification to be made before planning to launch again in May 2020.[24]

In April 2021, OneWeb launched its sixth batch of satellites to orbit. It comprised 36 units, bringing the total in-orbit constellation to 182.[30] In the same month, it was also reported that Eutelsat was putting £400m into the company, in return for a 24% equity stake.[31]

Bankruptcy[edit]

In March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 stock market crash, OneWeb faced a liquidity crisis and considered bankruptcy.[32] By the time of the bankruptcy filing, the company had reduced its workforce from 531 employees to 74. The effect on the previously planned ten launches in 2020 was not publicly discussed.[33]

On 27 March 2020, OneWeb Global Limited and 18 affiliates filed for bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.[34][13] The company blamed the COVID-19 pandemic, but the high-cost structure of OneWeb's contracted launches and satellites relative to the market size and other emerging competition – principally SpaceX's self-launched Starlink constellation – were thought to be challenging prior to the emergence of the pandemic.[12] Airbus OneWeb Satellites (AOS), the joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space to build the satellites, said it had made temporary furloughs due to the pandemic but that they were not due to the bankruptcy filing.[35]

On 3 July 2020, a consortium led Bharti Global and the Government of the United Kingdom won the auction to purchase the bankrupt company, with each of the two parties expected to invest US$500 million for a combined investment of US$1 billion.[36][37][38][39]

Exit from bankruptcy protection[edit]

On 3 July 2020, the Government of the United Kingdom and Sunil Mittal's Bharti Global (formerly a partner of OneWeb) announced a joint plan to invest US$500 million each for equal stakes in OneWeb Global (approximately 42% each); the rest would be held by other creditors including Softbank. The U.K. government would also hold a golden share to give it control over any future sales.[40][41][6] The deal was approved by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on 10 July 2020,[42] and later that month Hughes Network Systems invested US$50 million in the consortium.[43] In July 2020, the U.K. government planned to repurpose the OneWeb satellites for its own Global Navigation Satellite System,[40] and in September 2020 the earlier alternative proposal was cancelled.[44]

Shortly after the July public announcement, it emerged that Sam Beckett, the leading civil servant in the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), had warned ministers[when?] that taxpayers' money was at risk. She wrote her concerns in a "ministerial direction" letter, leading to a formal order from BEIS minister Alok Sharma to override those concerns and proceed with the bid.[45]

Seeking to clear bankruptcy under new ownership before the end of the year 2020, OneWeb announced on 21 September 2020 that it was set to resume launching satellites for its global broadband network in December 2020 under a modified 16-launch contract with Arianespace.[46] The payloads would ride to orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia, according to Arianespace.[46]

OneWeb exited bankruptcy protection by the U.S. court on 20 November 2020, and announced that the "sale to an ownership group led by Bharti Global and the British government has closed" together with the completion of a number of the regulatory approvals. Neil Masterson, formerly chief operating officer at media company Thomson Reuters, was appointed CEO around the same time. The company launched 36 additional satellites on 17 December 2020.[5] Furthermore, OneWeb announced plans to accelerate launches in 2021 so that the 650 satellites necessary for global coverage would be in orbit by 2022.[47]

In January 2021, a further funding round raised $400 million from SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems, with SoftBank getting a director of OneWeb's board. This brings available funding to $1.4 billion, which "positions the company" to fund its first-generation fleet of 648 satellites, but is insufficient to fund full deployment of the constellation by mid-2022. OneWeb chairman, Sunil Mittal, estimates about a further $1 billion is required, but did not anticipate difficulty in raising that.[6]

In March 2021, OneWeb stated its market will be primarily to businesses, governments including defence, phone network operators and clusters of communities, rather than to individual domestic customers which its competitor Starlink primarily targets.[48][49]

Satellites[edit]

Model of a OneWeb satellite

In 2016, OneWeb planned for a launch cadence of 30–36 satellites a month [50] to create an initial constellation of 650 satellites. The satellites operate in low Earth orbit (LEO).[51] Like existing LEO based communications satellite constellations, OneWeb's satellites are closer to Earth and will, therefore, provide much lower transmission delays than geostationary satellite broadband services.[29] As late as January 2020, OneWeb was still planning to provide 10 times the bandwidth and one-tenth of the latency of existing geostationary satellites.[52]

The first-generation satellites do not have inter-satellite data links, so will only provide a user service when also in the range of a gateway ground station, and will operate in 12 near polar orbit planes at 1,200 km (750 mi) altitude, at 86.4° orbital inclination. User service is in the Ku-band, and links to gateway ground stations are in the Ka-band.[53][54] OneWeb chose an altitude of 1,200 km because there is a minimum existing population of satellites and debris at that altitude.[51]

OneWeb's factory in Exploration Park on Merritt Island, Florida opened in July 2019, just outside the gates of NASA's Kennedy Space Center.[55][56] The factory is a joint venture with Airbus and has a production capacity of eight satellites per week.[57] The satellites will be programmed to detect the end of their life span after 5–7 years in orbit, and deorbit themselves from space and so that they burn up in the atmosphere as they descend towards Earth.[56]

Responsible space[edit]

In June 2019, OneWeb rolled out its initiative Responsible Space to outline the specific approaches it plans to take to promote sustainability and safe operations in space.[51] Responsible Space covers design and operational practices, including disposal of a satellite within 5 years of the end of its mission; developing an "ecosystem" within the space industry that supports sustainability; and collaboration with other space operators.[51] As one example, OneWeb plans to include a grapple fixture on its satellites so that a third-party satellite could grab it and tug it out of orbit, should the satellite prove non-responsive.[51]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]