OneWeb, a satellite internet startup, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 34 new OneWeb internet satellites into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on March 21, 2020.
An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches 34 new OneWeb internet satellites into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on March 21, 2020. (Image credit: Roscosmos)

Satellite internet startup OneWeb has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a move that comes less than a week after the company launched nearly three dozen satellites into orbit. 

The London-based OneWeb announced the bankruptcy filing late Friday (March 27) after Softbank, its largest investor, nixed a request for additional funding, according to media reports. The company is also laying off some employees as it seeks to restructure its business. 

"It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process while the Company's remaining employees are focused on responsibly managing our nascent constellation and working with the Court and investors," OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a press release announcing the bankruptcy filing. 

Video: Watch Soyuz launch 34 OneWeb satellites into orbit!
In photos:
OneWeb launches new global satellite internet constellation

Steckel cited the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the Chapter 11 filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York's Southern District.

"Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis," Steckel said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. "We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere."

In the news release, OneWeb representatives said the company had been seeking new funding since the start of 2020, but was unable to finalize the deal. 

"Since the beginning of the year, OneWeb had been engaged in advanced negotiations regarding investment that would fully fund the Company through its deployment and commercial launch," the company said in the release. "While the Company was close to obtaining financing, the process did not progress because of the financial impact and market turbulence related to the spread of COVID-19."

An artist's illustration of a OneWeb satellite in orbit. (Image credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb aims to build a 650-satellite megaconstellation to provide space-based internet access to customers around the world, including remote areas that typically have not had reliable connectivity. To do that, the company seeks to mass-produce high-speed broadband internet satellites, each of which weighs 325 lbs. (147 kilograms), at its factory near NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

On March 21, OneWeb launched 34 satellites into orbit on a Russian-built Soyuz rocket that lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission, provided by Arianespace, came just a month after a similar 34-satellite launch on a Soyuz from Baikonur on Feb. 6. OneWeb launched its first six satellites into orbit in February 2019.

To date, OneWeb has 74 satellites in low Earth orbit. Before Friday's Chapter 11 filing announcement, the company had aimed to begin internet service in 2021. According to SpaceNews, OneWeb had raised $3.4 billion in funding to date, $2 billion of that from Softbank, but some outside analysts have suggested the company would need up to $7.5 billion to complete the satellite constellation. 

OneWeb is not the only company aiming to provide high-speed internet access from space using a satellite megaconstellation. 

The company's chief rival SpaceX has already launched 360 of its Starlink satellites since 2019 as part of its own megaconstellation plan, a project that aims to grow to at least 12,000 satellites. Amazon and Telesat have also announced plans for internet satellite networks. 

So far, SpaceX is the only other company to have begun megaconstellation launches. The company has said it aims to begin internet service later this year. 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.