OneWeb

Last updated

OneWeb
Type Private
Industry Satellite Internet access
PredecessorWorldVu Satellites
Founded2012;9 years ago (2012)
Founder Greg Wyler [1] [2] [3]
Headquarters London, England, UK [4]
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
Neil Masterson (CEO) [5]
Owner
Number of employees
Decrease2.svg ~80 (March 2020)
Subsidiaries OneWeb Satellites
Website www.oneweb.net

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]

Contents

The company was founded by Greg Wyler in 2012 [1] [2] and launched its first satellites in February 2019. It 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 emerged from the bankruptcy proceedings and reorganization in November 2020 with a new ownership group, led by the Government of the United Kingdom and Indian multinational company 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] [12] As further investments are made to complete the first phase satellite deployments, the British Government and Bharti Global percentage shareholding will decline. [13]

OneWeb commenced launches of the OneWeb satellite constellation, a network of more than 650 low Earth orbit satellites, in February 2019, [14] and by May 2021, had launched 218 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.

History

OneWeb satellite manufacturing facility in Merritt Island, Florida. OneWeb satellite manufacturing facility, Merritt Island, Florida, 2019 01.jpg
OneWeb satellite manufacturing facility in Merritt Island, Florida.

The company was founded in 2012 under the name WorldVu, [11] and was based in Britain's Channel Islands. [15]

Pre-launch agreements and investments

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. [16] [17] 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. [18]

In July 2016, one year after the initial announcement, OneWeb stated they were on schedule. [19] In December 2016, OneWeb raised US$1 billion from SoftBank Group Corp. and US$200 million from existing investors. [20] [21]

In February 2017, OneWeb announced that it expected to sell all of its capacity by launch time. [20] At the time, it had formally announced capacity sold for a joint Gogo and Intelsat venture. [20] OneWeb's founder and then executive chairman Greg Wyler announced he was considering nearly quadrupling the size of the satellite constellation by adding 1972 additional satellites that OneWeb had priority rights to. [20] 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". [20] A merger arrangement with Intelsat that had been in negotiations during May 2017 collapsed in June 2017 and did not go forward. [22]

Production facilities

By 2019, OneWeb had formed a joint venture, OneWeb Satellites, with the European company Airbus Defence and Space in order to manufacture 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. [23]

First launches and additional investments

On 27 February 2019, OneWeb successfully launched its first six satellites into 1,200 km [24] low Earth orbit from the Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guiana using a Soyuz-2 launch vehicle. [25] The same day OneWeb announced that it signed its first two client agreements marking the beginning of its commercialization. [26] 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. [27]

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). [28] This secured the vital rights OneWeb needed to operate its global satellite broadband network. [15]

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. [23]

Bankruptcy

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. [29] [30] [3] The company said the decision has been made because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. [31] 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. [31] [30]

On 3 July 2020, a consortium led Bharti Global and the Government of the United Kingdom won the auction to purchase the bankrupt company. [32] [33] [34] [35] The sale closed in November, allowing the company to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy. [36]

Exit from bankruptcy protection

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 UK government would also hold a golden share to give it control over any future sales. [33] [37] [12] The plan was approved by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on 10 July 2020, [38] and the deal closed in November 2020, allowing OneWeb to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In July 2020, Hughes Network Systems invested US$50 million in the consortium. [39] The same month, the UK government stated an intention to repurpose the OneWeb satellites for its own Global Navigation Satellite System. [33] [40]

Shortly after the July public announcement of the OneWeb sale, a letter from Sam Beckett, the leading civil servant in the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was released. In the letter, Beckett raised concerns that taxpayers' money could be at risk. The comments were made as part of a request for "ministerial direction", therefore it was required that the letter be made public and any concerns raised be formally overruled. BEIS minister Alok Sharma overrode the concerns and proceeded with the bid. [41]

On 21 September 2020, OneWeb announced that it was set to resume launching satellites for its global broadband network in December 2020 under a modified 16-launch contract with Arianespace. [42] The December payloads would ride to orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia, according to Arianespace, and additional satellites were to be launched later from Russia, Kazakhstan, and French Guiana. [42]

New CEO, launches accelerating

In November 2020, the company announced that Neil Masterson, formerly chief operating officer at media company Thomson Reuters, had been appointed CEO. [43] 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. [44]

2021

In January 2021, a further funding round raised $400 million from SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems, with SoftBank getting a director seat on OneWeb's board. This brought available funding to $1.4 billion, which "positions the company" to fund its first-generation fleet of 648 satellites, but would be insufficient to fund full deployment of the constellation by mid-2022. OneWeb chairman, Sunil Mittal, estimated about a further $1 billion is required, but did not anticipate difficulty in raising that. [12]

In April 2021, OneWeb launched its sixth batch of satellites to orbit. It comprised 36 units, bringing the total in-orbit constellation to 182. [45] In the same month, it was also reported that Eutelsat was putting £400M into the company, in return for a 24% equity stake. [46] Eutelsat's stake decreased to 19.3% when Bharti Global increased its holding in June 2021. [6]

In May 2021, OneWeb was asked by the UK Space Agency to lead a consortium of space companies working to develop a satellite that can beam hop, meaning it can change which part of the world it covers. The consortium includes SatixFy, Celestia UK, and Astroscale UK. [47] That same month, OneWeb announced plans to buy TrustComm, a U.S.-based managed satellite communications provider. After the purchase, the company became OneWeb's government distribution partner. [48]

In May 2021, OneWeb's seventh launch took the number of satellites in orbit to 218, to create the second largest fleet behind Starlink. [49]

In June 2021, Oneweb raised an additional US$500M from Bharti Global, increasing Bharti's holding to 38.6%. [50] In August 2021, Hanwha Systems invested $300 million to purchase an 8.8% share in OneWeb, enabling Hanwha to appoint one member of the board of directors and bring its own dual-use defense and satellite technology to the company. [51]

OneWeb became the founding member of Indian Space Association (ISpA). ISpA will act as bridge between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and private industries to form the space ecosystem in India. [52]

Intended markets

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. [53] [54] The users willing to connect were advised to contact their local telecoms for additional info. [55]

Satellites

Model of a OneWeb satellite KSC-20170316-PH KLS01 0007~orig.jpg
Model of a OneWeb satellite

In 2016, OneWeb planned for a launch cadence of 30–36 satellites a month [56] to create an initial constellation of 650 satellites. The satellites operate in low Earth orbit (LEO). [57] 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. [28] 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. [58]

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. [59] [60] OneWeb chose an altitude of 1,200 km because there is a minimum existing population of satellites and debris at that altitude. [57]

OneWeb's factory in Exploration Park on Merritt Island, Florida opened in July 2019, just outside the gates of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. [61] [62] The factory is a joint venture with Airbus and has a production capacity of eight satellites per week. [63] The satellites will be programmed to detect the end of their life span after 5–7 years in orbit, and deorbit themselves from space so that they burn up in the atmosphere as they descend towards Earth. [62]

Responsible space

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. [57] 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. [57] 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. [57]

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