OneWeb Taps former GeoEye Boss Matt O’Connell as CEO

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JERUSALEM — OneWeb LLC, which is planning a 700-satellite constellation of low-orbiting satellites to provide broadband worldwide, on Oct. 12 named Matthew O’Connell, a former chief executive of geospatial imagery provider GeoEye, as chief executive, the company announced Oct. 14.

O’Connell, in an interview, said his first priority would be to oversee the last details of OneWeb’s joint-venture agreement with Airbus Defence and Space of Europe, which will be building about 900 OneWeb satellites, including spares, most of them presumably at a factory in the United States. Florida is the most likely venue.

“I’ve been told it’s 98.5 percent complete,” O’Connell said of the legal work and regulatory filings needed to create the joint venture that will build the satellites. “It could be six or eight weeks until we get it all settled.”

OneWeb, based in Britain’s Channel Islands, has raised about $500 million and will need to raise $2 billion to $2.5 billion more for the capital cost of building and launching the satellites and an initial ground segment.

Before becoming chief executive of GeoEye, since purchased by competitor DigitalGlobe, O’Connell had a career on Wall Street. It is now in that direction he will turn for financing, he said.

But OneWeb has also said it would seek export-credit financing – presumably from France, where Airbus’s satellite operations are, but also from the United States, where the main satellite integration and assembly will occur.

The shutdown in July of the U.S. export-credit agency, the Export-Import Bank, has complicated the U.S. initiative, but O’Connell said the bank’s status and possibly imminent reopening is not a big issue for OneWeb.

It’s not the bank’s reopening, he said, but the way it behaves in the near term given its first-ever big loss related to a satellite project that is of more concern. Ex-Im is facing the likely definitive loss of more than $200 million because of the bankruptcy and dismemberment of NewSat of Australia. Ex-Im had lent NewSat money to finance construction of a large satellite built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California.

O’Connell said he was optimistic that the low interest-rate environment and OneWeb’s initial success in raising $500 million from vendors and strategic partners would make it easier to find commercial sources of funding.

The French export-credit agency, Coface, has said it is reviewing the OneWeb system to determine its French content with a view to guaranteeing a loan. Coface was also involved in NewSat, backing a launch by Europe’s Arianespace consortium. But Coface’s loss was substantially less than that sustained by Ex-Im and Coface — in contrast to Ex-Im — is not politically controversial back home.

“Non-ECA financing is certainly a possibility,” O’Connell said of export-credit financing. “It would be crazy not to think about it. We have a clear mandate to grow fast. No one has done a project of this size before so I will first start talking to my old friends on Wall Street.”