The Defense Department is weighing options to assist vulnerable space startups that have been hit hard by the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Space Force’s number-two officer said May 12.
The nascent military branch remains “greatly concerned” about the economic impact of the coronavirus on commercial and defense-related companies, including firms that have recently filed for bankruptcy such as OneWeb, said Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David “DT” Thompson during a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Mitchell Institute.
Space Force leaders have coordinated with their colleagues on the Space Acquisition Council to develop a series of proposed investments to move aggressively to protect impacted companies, he added.
“I will say with respect to OneWeb specifically and others, we continue to work,” Thompson said “We work with the White House and we’ll be working with Congress, not just focused on OneWeb but all of the commercial space companies that face bankruptcy and face those concerns.”
Thompson did not provide additional details on what those investments may look like. But he emphasized that they would be needed to ensure that technologies being developed by OneWeb and other space companies remain available for U.S. national security, and that “potential adversaries don’t have the opportunity to acquire those capabilities.”
OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on March 27, Defense Daily’s sister publication Via Satellite reported. The company said in a release that it planned to use the bankruptcy proceedings to pursue a sale to maximize the value of the company. The Telegraph reported May 4 that Amazon [AMZN], Space X and French company Eutelsat have expressed interest in acquiring OneWeb’s assets and again May 9 that two firms with links to China’s governing party have submitted proposals in the company’s fire sale. The final call for bids will take place in June.
Before filing for bankruptcy, OneWeb was among several companies racing to build small-satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to offer high-speed internet around the world. The company announced last September that it would provide low-latency broadband in the Arctic region by the end of 2020. U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) expressed interest in using OneWeb and SpaceX’s satellite capabilities to enhance Arctic communications, and requested $130 million for the effort in the Defense Department’s list of unfunded priorities for fiscal year 2021.