OneWeb, Ltd. is a global communications company formerly known as WorldVu Satellites, Ltd. The company was formed by Greg Wyler and was originally a planned satellite constellation consisting of 648 microsatellites to provide worldwide Internet access for on individual consumers and airlines.
OneWeb’s mission was to enable affordable Internet access for everyone, connect every school on Earth and bridge the digital divide by 2027. OneWeb is building a communications network with a constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, operating at 750 miles (1,200km) altitude, that will provide connectivity to billions of people around the world.
The current design of the OneWeb satellite network consists of 648 micro satellites of about 125 kg. Each satellite is capable of delivering at least 8Gbs of throughput to provide Internet access to homes and mobile platforms using its high throughput Ku-band payload. OneWeb is considering nearly quadrupling the size of the satellite constellation by adding 1,972 additional satellites that it has priority rights to.
For the financing of the satellite constellation, OneWeb raised nearly 2 billion USD in equity from shareholders with deep industry and distribution expertise, including Qualcomm, Hughes, satellite operator Intelsat, Coca-Cola, Airbus Group, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and the Softbank Group of Japan.
OneWeb innovated the first low-cost, high performance NGSO satellites for mass production, leading to the opening of the dedicated facility in Florida, USA.
Among all major satellite manufacturers (Airbus Defence & Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Boeing Commercial Satellite Services (BCSS), OHB AG, Space System/Loral (SS/L) and Thales Alenia Space) Airbus Defence & Space was selected to build the 900 satellites that will costs 500,000 USD per satellite and have a design life of seven years or more.
On March 27th 2020, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy, following a cash crunch amidst difficulties raising capital to complete the build and deployment of the remaining 90% of the network. The company had already laid off approximately 85% of its 531 employees, but it would maintain satellite operational capabilities while the court restructured the company and new owners for the constellation were sought.
On 3 July 3rd, 2020, a consortium led by the UK government and Bharti Global won the auction to purchase the bankrupt company, with each of the two parties expected to invest 500 million USD for a combined investment of 1 billion USD.
In January 2021 SoftBank Group made an investment into the new iteration of OneWeb, after the former majority investor pulled out of a new funding round, sending the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The investment of Softbank was estimated on 350 million USD, bringing the total funding to 1.4 billion USD, taking into account the extra funding from Hughes Network Systems of 50 million USD thru its parent company EchoStar and the 1 billion USD investment from current owners, Bharti Global and the UK Government to bring OneWeb out of Chapter 11.
In 2012 Google executive and satellite-industry veteran, Gregory Thane Wyler founded OneWeb with the mission of enabling Internet access for everyone. OneWeb was originally formed as WorldVu Satellites, Ltd.
More than 15 years ago, Wyler’s company, Terracom, sought to bring the Internet to Rwanda through a contract to run fiber optic cables across the country. A few years later, after Terracom’s targets to connect schools to the Internet were not met and amid questions about the company’s business practices, Rwanda fined Terracom, and Wyler was out as its leader.
This experience did not deter Wyler or, apparently, investors. In Africa, he had learned some harsh lessons about Earth-based infrastructure and politics and saw the potential of satellite Internet for rural areas and undeveloped nations. He founded O3b Networks, Ltd. in 2007, which began launching a small constellation of satellites six years later. O3b was a global satellite service provider operating a constellation of Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites, servicing telecommunications operators, Internet service providers and enterprise and government customers in Latin America, Africa, the Middle-East and the Asia Pacific.
By then Wyler had already moved on to start another company dedicated to satellite Internet, WorldVu. In November 2014 SpaceX’ Elon Musk and Wyler were considering options for building a factory to manufacture high-volume low-cost satellites. The initial talks had been held with state officials in Florida and Colorado about potentially locating a factory in those states, as well as that launch operator SpaceX would likely launch the satellites. The partnership ultimately did not work out.
By 2015, WorldVu had rebranded as OneWeb and began to raise significant capital for its satellite plans. SpaceX had gone its own way, intent on building its own Starlink satellite Internet constellation.
Through his more than a decade of experience in satellite Internet, Wyler has emerged as one of the most influential figures in the race to build satellites, establish a constellation in low-Earth orbit, and begin to deliver low-cost, low-latency Internet around the planet.
For the financing of the satellite constellation, OneWeb raised nearly 2 billion USD in equity from shareholders with deep industry and distribution expertise, including Qualcomm, Hughes, satellite operator Intelsat, Coca-Cola, Airbus Defense & Space, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and the Softbank Group of Japan.
Also in November 2014, WorldVu issued a tender to the major satellite manufacturers (Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), Thales Alenia Space, OHB AG, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Airbus Defence & Space and Boeing Commercial Satellite Services (BCSS) for the manufacturing of 640 125kgs satellites. The contract was awarded to Airbus Defence & Space for the build of 900 satellites that will costs 500,000 USD per satellite and have a design life of seven years or more.
In January 2016, Airbus Defence & Space and OneWeb created the 50/50 joint venture, OneWeb Satelites, to build the satellites. Aerospace components supplier RUAG Switzerland would build the mechanical skeletal structures of the satellites. The first ten would be built at Toulouse, France, while the remainder would be built at a dedicated factory in the USA.
In June 2016 OneWeb signed a contract with launch operator Arianespace for 21 Soyuz rocket launches. The Europeanized Soyuz will launch clusters of 36 or 34 OneWeb’s satellites from Kourou in French Guiana. There are five more options for Soyuz launches and three options for launches using the Ariane 6 launches after 2021, making this the first contract announced for the Arianespace launch vehicle.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic investor would also provide launch services thru Virgin Orbit for 39 single-sat launches using its LauncherOne smallsat launch vehicle, with options for 100 more launches. In March 2017 an agreement for five launches of the New Glenn rocket of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launch operator was made.
In December 2016 SoftBank Group, Corp. from Japan agreed to invest 1 billion USD in OneWeb. Softbank would become OneWeb’s largest shareholder, with a roughly 40% stake. Another 200 million USD will be funded by its current investors, which include Qualcomm, Inc, Airbus Group and Virgin Group. The transaction was expected to be closed in Q1 2017.
In February 2017 OneWeb announced that it had sold most of the capacity of its initial 648 satellites and was considering nearly quadrupling the size of the satellite constellation by adding 1,972 additional satellites that it has priority rights to. With the original capital raise of 500 million USD in 2015, plus the 1 billion USD investment of SoftBank in 2016, previous investors committed to an additional 200 million USD, bringing OneWeb’s total capital raised to 1.7 billion USD.
In March 2020 OneWeb voluntarily filed for Chapter-11 bankruptcy protection after it failed to secure 2 billion USD in new funding from Softbank. The company laid off the majority of its staff and will retain enough employees to continue operating the satellite already in orbit. It was unclear whether the 74 satellites will be kept in orbit and used for limited Internet services or intentionally deorbited by the company.
In July 2020 a consortium led by British Government, the third largest mobile phone operator Barthi Global, Ltd from India and long-time investor Hughes Network Systems, agreed to buy OneWeb. The acquisition was finalized in October 2020. OneWeb emerged from Chapter-11 in November 2020 and will restart operations accordingly.
In April 2021 satellite operator Eutelsat took a 24% stake in OneWeb by investing 500 million USD, making a substantial move in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The investment closes the gap in funding necessary for OneWeb to complete its mega-constellation in the sky of 648 LEO satellites. In April 2021 OneWeb launched another 36 spacecraft, taking its total in-orbit network to 182.
Manufacturing and constellation rollout
The initial operational constellation was originally planned in 2014 to be just half of the total of 720 satellites. A quarter of the satellites will make up the initial constellation, and these would operate in the lower of the two proposed orbits, at approximately 530 miles (850 km). The initial constellation would presumably be raised or lowered into its final orbital altitude of either 500 miles (800 km) or 590 miles (950 km) as consumer and business use of the broadband service grows over time. By early 2015, OneWeb indicated that the first launches would occur no earlier than 2017.
In January 2016 OneWeb Satellites, has signed supply contracts with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA, aka Maxar Technologies, owner of Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) from Canada, Sodern from France (part of the Ariane Group), and Teledyne Defence from the UK.
To equip each of the 900 satellites forming the OneWeb fleet, MDA will manufacture 3,600 antenna subsystems, Sodern will provide 1,800 star trackers, and Teledyne Defence will supply communications repeater equipment.
In February 2016, OneWeb announced that they would set up an assembly and test facility in Florida, USA. The plan was to assemble and launch more than 648 satellites by the end of 2019, but will manufacture an additional 250 of the 300-lb-satellites (140 kgs) as spares to be used in later years.
In June 2017 OneWeb Satellites inaugurates its assembly line in Toulouse, France, the beating heart of Airbus’ manufacturing expertise, to begin end-to-end validation, testing and integration of its first satellites set for launch in just over nine months.
The 4,600 square meters Toulouse facility will be used for assembly of the first 10 small satellites for before shifting production of the majority of the constellation to a new 85 million USD factory in Exploration Park, Florida, USA.
See below the launches of OneWeb’s batches of satellites:
|Launch date||Launch Provider||Launch Vehicle||Launch Site||Mission|
|Feb 27, 2019||Arianespace||Soyuz-2||French Guiana||OneWeb-1 (1-6)|
|Feb 06, 2020||Arianespace||Soyuz-2||Baikonur KZ||OneWeb-2 (7-30)|
|Mar 21, 2020||Arianespace||Soyuz-2||Baikonur KZ||OneWeb-3 (31-74)|
|Dec 18, 2020||Arianespace||Soyuz-2||Baikonur KZ||OneWeb-4 (75-110)|
|Mar 26, 2021||Arianespace||Soyuz-2||Baikonur KZ||OneWeb-5 (111-146)|
|Apr 25, 2021||Arianespace||Soyuz-2||Baikonur KZ||OneWeb-6 (147-182)|
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