In a webinar hosted by the Washington Space Business Roundtable in the US, small satellite megaconstellation broadband connectivity company OneWeb VP: regulatory affairs Ruth Pritchard-Kelly stated on Wednesday that the enterprise should exit bankruptcy protection “any day now”. The company, which had originally planned to place an initial 650-satellite constellation into orbit by 2021, had, in March, been forced to file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the US bankruptcy code.
In July, OneWeb was bought by a partnership composed of the UK government and Indian enterprise Bharti Global (part of global major Indian private-sector group Bharti Enterprises, which also owns Bharti Airtel, which is the world’s third-biggest cellular phone operator, with more than 425-million customers). Press reports stated that the UK government and Bharti would each hold 45% of OneWeb, with the remaining 10% being held by lesser private sector investors.
This purchase was formally approved by a US Federal court on October 2, which allowed the company to start the process to leave Chapter 11. Another key step in this was the US Federal Communications Commission’s October 27 approval of the transfer of OneWeb’s satellite and ground station licences to its new controlling partnership.
“This new ownership is poised to take over any day now,” she said. “Almost every t has been crossed and every i has been dotted.” The UK government and Bharti have each committed to investing $500-million in OneWeb (for a total of $1-billion).
The company manufactures its own satellites. In a joint venture with Airbus, it set up the world’s first-ever high-speed and high-volume satellite production facility, in the US state of Florida, adjacent to the world-renowned Kennedy Spaceflight Centre at Cape Canaveral. The company already had 74 of these satellites in orbit when it had to file for bankruptcy protection.
Earlier this week OneWeb sent, by air, 36 more of these satellites, to be launched by Arianespace (using Soyuz rockets launched from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome). They are scheduled for launch next month. OneWeb had already contracted Arianespace for 16 Soyuz launches, and these should allow the entire initial 650-strong megaconstellation to be in orbit by the end of 2022.
The objective of OneWeb is to provide broadband connectivity worldwide, but especially in remote or poorly served areas. The intent is to support existing service providers.
“We are going to be the backbone that local operators use to finally provide universal service,” she affirmed. “We will invite them to use us as their cellular backhaul, as their last mile, as the way they connect.”