OneWeb confirms layoffs and potential launch schedule delays amid reported bankruptcy considerations

Satellite operator OneWeb has confirmed that its workforce has been reduced via layoffs, after TechCrunch learned that it reduced its workforce by as much as 10% this week. The company did not confirm the total size of the layoff, but provided a statement to TechCrunch regarding the current state of its operations, and citing cost that it deemed necessary in light of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic turmoil.

A OneWeb spokesperson provided this statement, provided in full, regarding the situation:

The OneWeb launch is going ahead on Saturday with more launches planned later in the year; however, like others, we are impacted by the global health and economic crisis and we need to dynamically adjust our workforce. Unfortunately, we think it is inevitable that there will be delays to our launch schedule and satellite manufacturing due to increasing travel restrictions and the disruption of supply chains globally. Therefore, we made the difficult decision to eliminate some roles and responsibilities as we work to focus on core operations.  We are sorry to have had to take this step and we’re doing everything we can to support those affected.

This follows a report from Thursday by Bloomberg that OneWeb, which has nearly $3 billion in investment from SoftBank over its past two rounds, is considering filing for bankruptcy protection as one possible way to deal with a crunch in its available cash. Some of the highest-flying SoftBank-backed startups have faced challenges lately, precipitated in part by the high-profile reversal of co-working startup WeWork’s fortunes. OneWeb did not comment on the reported bankruptcy consideration.

Bloomberg’s report says that it is looking at other options beyond a formal bankruptcy filing to stay afloat, but the company faces big challenges in terms of operating costs. As noted in its statement to TechCrunch, OneWeb has a launch scheduled for Saturday, which will take 34 of its satellites to space aboard a Soyuz rocket taking off from Kazakhstan. That will put its total constellation at 74 satellites, including a batch of 34 that were launched earlier this year, and six that went up last March.

OneWeb aims to provide high-bandwidth communication services using low Earth orbit satellites, with a focus on rural and other areas that are hard-to-reach for terrestrial networks. It faces competition from companies including SpaceX, which has launched 302 Starlink satellites for its own network to date, and Amazon, which has yet to launch any spacecraft, but is planning a similar offering under its own Project Kuiper.