UK space startup OneWeb blames coronavirus as it files for bankruptcy protection in the US

Tom McArthur
Page editor
OneWeb, the high-profile London-based satellite start-up, files for bankruptcy protection in the US. (OneWeb)

A high profile UK startup that had been building a satellite network to deliver broadband across the globe has blamed the coronavirus pandemic for its collapse.

OneWeb issued a statement on Saturday morning saying it was laying off the majority of its staff while it seeks a buyer and filing for bankruptcy protection in the US.

The London start-up recently launched the 74th satellite in a constellation planned to total at least 648 orbiters.

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Its aim was to use this network to supply high-bandwidth, low-lag time internet connections to any point on Earth, except Antarctica.

It had raised £2.6bn to implement its project but experts in the space industry speculated that double this sum would probably be needed to complete the system, prompting rumours of a collapse last week

The statement released by OneWeb in the early hours of Saturday, UK time, said the company had been close to obtaining financing but that, "the process did not progress because of the financial impact and market turbulence related to the spread of Covid-19".

CEO Adrian Steckel added: "Today is a difficult day for us at OneWeb. So many people have dedicated so much energy, effort, and passion to this company and our mission. Our hope is that this process will allow us to carve a path forward that leads to the completion of our mission, building on the years of effort and the billions of invested capital."

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Competition for constellation-based broadband internet service is intensifying, with SpaceX already having around 240 satellites for its own Starlink project, with a lot more launches of 60 satellites each set for this year. 

SpaceX is its own launch provider, which simplifies delivery, keeping costs down

Amazon is also undertaking a similar project, currently codenamed "Kuiper," but it has yet to put any hardware in orbit.