Hispasat control center
Hispasat's satellite control center. Credit: Hispasat

WASHINGTON — Abertis, a Spanish firm best known for managing toll roads in Europe and South America, is awaiting government approval to expand its ownership in Hispasat by buying Eutelsat’s 33.7 percent stake in the Madrid-based satellite fleet operator.

Eutelsat, which announced the sale of its 302-million-euro ($338.2 million) stake in May, said then it expected the deal to close by the end of 2017. Abertis stands to control 90.7 percent of Hispasat and its nine-satellite fleet once the deal is completed.

Eutelsat desired for years to acquire a larger fraction of Hispasat. The Paris-based satellite operator’s former chief executive, Michel de Rosen, said last year that Eutelsat wanted to merge with Hispasat.

Spain’s government was not nearly as fond of a Eutelsat-Hispasat merger. Hispasat owns 43 percent of Hisdesat Servicios Estratégicos, an X- and Ka-band satellite services provider that supports the Spanish Ministry of Defence.

In a conference call with investors Oct. 23, Abertis Chief Financial Officer José Aljaro Navarro gave no indication of the Spanish government’s stance on Abertis’ larger stake in Hispasat, saying only that the company is still “waiting the approval for the Spanish government for the transmission of the Eutelsat shares to Abertis.”

Spain’s Council of Ministers must approve the transaction in order for Abertis to proceed.

Hispasat reported 176 million euros in revenue for the first nine months of 2017, up 3.3 percent thanks to 9 million euros in indemnities from the delay of the Hispasat-36W-1 launch. The satellite was OHB of Germany’s first “SmallGEO” satellite — weighing 3,210 kilograms —  and took around seven years to complete. The extensive delays led Hispasat to switch vehicles within the Arianespace launcher family from the Ariane 5 to a dedicated Soyuz mission, which launched in January.

Hispasat’s EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, increased 9.1 percent largely because of the same one-off indemnity. OHB says it is working to shorten its SmallGEO manufacturing time to three years.

Hispasat has launched two of three new satellites planned for this year. After the Hispasat 36W-1 launch, Amazonas-5 followed in September on an International Launch Services Proton. The third satellite, Hispasat 30W-6 (formerly Hispasat-1F), is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 before year’s end.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...