OneWeb – SpaceX’s Only Viable Competitor – to File for Bankruptcy Within Hours as the Rescue Deal With SoftBank Collapses

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OneWeb, the satellite-based internet company that competed against SpaceX’s Starlink project, is now preparing to file for bankruptcy and is laying off most of its employees, according to the reporting by Financial Times.

The company may file for a chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States as soon as Friday. This development follows a break down in talks between OneWeb and one of its largest backers – the Japanese giant SoftBank Group Corp. (TYO:9984) – in order to secure at least $2 billion in emergency funding. However, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic roiled the global financial markets, SoftBank and Oneweb could not agree on the terms of a much-needed bridge loan that would have given the satellite startup the crucial breathing space to seek new investors.

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According to a FT source, the talks collapsed just hours ahead of the company’s latest launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on the 23rd of March that deployed 30 satellites in low Earth orbit, bringing OneWeb’s satellite constellation count to 74. As per the company’s original vision, it planned to launch as many as 648 satellites by 2021 and provide affordable wireless broadband services throughout the globe, including in remote areas and ships. The company constructed its satellites in a Florida facility using a mass-production process that, according to the startup’s claims, could transform the industry economics.

OneWeb was once considered the more promising of a myriad of satellite-based internet companies that have popped up in recent times, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper. According to the venture capital firm Space Angels, 435 satellite-based internet startups have collectively attracted over $20 billion in funding since 2009.

OneWeb raised as much as $3.4 billion from high-profile investors such as Airbus, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Bharti Enterprises and Grupo Salinas. However, the company received its most resounding backing in December 2016 when SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son invested $1 billion in OneWeb as part of his personal commitment to President Trump to create thousands of new jobs in the United States.

As per a FT source, SoftBank had originally intended to merge OneWeb with its gargantuan Vision Fund. However, the Japanese giant abandoned those plans when Mr. Son began to have consternations regarding the viability of the company. Of course, SoftBank’s deteriorating finances may have played a very important role in the disintegration of OneWeb’s rescue deal. The Japanese giant has been struggling to boost its stock price after the coronavirus-induced equity selloff hammered its shares. Mr. Son even considered going private this week before opting to sell $41 billion in assets to reduce debt – that now amounts to $55 billion – and fund a share buyback program in order to provide a much-needed stock price boost. The measure seems to have done the trick. As an illustration, SoftBank’s share price has increased by a whopping 44.5 percent this week.