OneWeb emerges from bankruptcy, launching 36 more broadband satellites
This year has been quite a ride for OneWeb and its globe-connecting constellation of low Earth orbiting broadband satellites. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March with just 74 of its initial planned 648 satellites in orbit, the company was rescued by more than US$1 billion in investment from the UK government and India's Bharti Global.
Now it seems things are starting to happen again, the company recently announcing it has successfully launched 36 more satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket on December 18, bringing its current total to 110. These were "dispersed in nine batches over a period of 3 hours, 52 minutes," the company says, "with signal acquisition on all 36 satellites confirmed." After losing most of its workforce in that COVID-driven March bankruptcy, OneWeb says it's hiring again at a "fast pace," and continuing to roll out infrastructure on the ground, as well as in orbit.
The company aims to eventually offer a fully global satellite broadband service, with hundreds of satellites orbiting just 1,200 km (746 miles) above the surface to provide low latency, high speed internet to the furthest reaches of the planet. It has demonstrated broadband speeds over 400 Mbps, with a latency of 32 ms. The UK government may use the network to develop its own GPS competitor now that it's Brexited its way out of the European Union's Galileo system.
Of course, OneWeb will be going up against Elon Musk's own Starlink project, which already has nearly a thousand satellites in orbit and fires 60 more into the sky with each Falcon 9 flight, with plans for up to 12,000 in total. It may prove hard to compete against a guy that's got his own rocket launch service, especially in a game where consumers expect constant leaps in performance. Questions have been raised about OneWeb's ability to replace its system every five to seven years to keep up with what's happening on the ground.
Still, OneWeb is optimistic, saying it plans to target business and government customers before making a big push to retail consumers. It plans to begin services in the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada in 2021, with global service to follow in 2022.