PARIS — Recovering satellite fleet operator Satmex of Mexico on June 11 said it will be able to finance the purchase of its Satmex 7 satellite from Boeing, and the satellite’s launch aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket, on its own and does not need a loan from the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
In a conference call with investors, Satmex Chief Financial Officer Juan Garcia said Satmex 7 “is fully funded” and can be purchased from Satmex’s operating cash flows between now and its planned launch in early 2015. He said the company is nonetheless still working with the U.S. export-credit agency for a low-interest loan. Satmex has estimated that Satmex 7 will cost $165 million, a figure that includes the satellite’s construction by El Segundo, Calif.-based Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, its launch with another Boeing-built all-electric satellite aboard a Falcon 9, insurance coverage and capitalized interest expenses.
In an April filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Satmex said it was in talks with the Ex-Im Bank about a direct loan of $255.4 million to cover Satmex 7 and part of the cost of the Satmex 8 satellite that was launched in March and entered commercial service in April. Satmex 8 was built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif.
But in its May 15 submission to the SEC, Satmex omitted reference to an Ex-Im loan, saying Satmex 7 would be paid for by the issuance of new debt and from the company’s operating cash flows. Satmex has $360 million in current debt whose terms set limits on how much further debt the company can incur.
Satmex’s operating cash flow for 2012 was $82.5 million. For the three months ending last March 31, cash flow was $10.6 million. Satmex is counting on the new Satmex 8 satellite, which has much more capacity than the Satmex 5 satellite it is replacing, to boost revenue and cash flow.
Satmex Chief Executive Patricio Northland said during the conference call that the company has already booked one large lease contract for Satmex 7, which will be located at Satmex’s 114.9 degrees west longitude orbital slot.
Satmex and Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) of Hong Kong in March 2012 entered into an unusual agreement wherein they joined forces to purchase four of Boeing’s new all-electric 702SP satellites. The bulk purchase was necessary to obtain the per-satellite pricing that Satmex and ABS received.
Buying satellites together also enabled the two satellite fleet operators to enter into a contract with Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX for the launch of two satellites at a time aboard a Falcon 9. The all-electric design dispenses with the need for conventional propellant, sharply reducing a satellite’s launch weight and allowing the use of smaller rockets.
But the xenon-electric propulsion delivers a satellite to final geostationary orbit much more slowly than conventional propellant. In Satmex’s case, a launch in February 2015 would mean waiting up to eight months before the satellite is ready for commercial service.
It remains unclear whether Satmex will confirm its decision to purchase the second of its two satellites announced in the Boeing contract. Satmex calls this satellite the F4 and both Satmex and ABS shared the initial payment to Boeing for its early design.
If the two operators cancel the F4 contract with Boeing by July 13, they will lose their down payments but otherwise have no further financial obligation to Boeing for it. Canceling this contract also would have the effect of annulling the option for four more Boeing satellites that the two operators included in their March 2012 contract.
In its May 15 SEC filing, Satmex says it paid $3.8 million in F4 charges in 2012, but none during the first three months of 2013.
Satmex’s near-term financial viability was assured by the successful April launch of the Satmex 8 satellite. The Satmex 5 spacecraft it has now replaced had nearly exhausted its station-keeping fuel and Satmex would have had difficulty retaining the Satmex 5 customers if Satmex 8 had not been ready to assure a smooth transfer.
That transfer has now been accomplished, and Satmex 8 has some 45 percent more capacity than Satmex 5, giving the company room to grow revenue. With the retirement of Satmex 5, Satmex is also no longer obligated to provide satellite fleet operator Telesat of Canada with three Ku-band transponders, a commitment that dated from when Telesat owner Loral Space and Communications of New York had its own fleet of satellites.
Satmex’s financial results for the first three months of 2013 saw no benefit from Satmex 8 and were weakened by a reduced demand for Ku-band capacity from one of Satmex’s biggest customers, Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md. Hughes, which is owned by EchoStar Corp. of Englewood, Colo., has its own Ka-band broadband satellites and is gradually migrating customers from third-party leased capacity to its own fleet.
Revenue from Satmex’s fixed satellite services business in the first three months of 2013 was $28.1 million, compared with $27.1 million for the same period in 2012. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 79 percent of revenue for the first three months of 2013 and 81 percent for the same period in 2012.