AsiaSat-Sea Launch Contract Requires Court Approval

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator AsiaSat of Hong Kong and commercial launch services provider Sea Launch Co. have entered into a contract designed to end their yearlong dispute and provide AsiaSat with a launch of a future satellite for no more than $98 million, the companies said.

The agreement, announced July 12 by Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch, must be approved by the Delaware Bankruptcy Court overseeing Sea Launch’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Sea Launch currently expects to emerge from bankruptcy by September on the strength of a financial lifeline provided by RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia, which manufactures the upper stage of Sea Launch’s Zenit 3SL rocket.

Under this scenario, Sea Launch could return to flight in mid- to late 2011.

AsiaSat is one of numerous unsecured creditors in the Sea Launch bankruptcy due to its May 2006 contract to launch the AsiaSat 5 satellite aboard a Sea Launch vehicle. AsiaSat had paid $31.5 million in milestone payments to Sea Launch under that contract.

Sea Launch entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2009. AsiaSat, concerned that its launch schedule could not be assured, switched suppliers and ultimately paid $95 million to International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va., for an August 2009 launch aboard an ILS Proton vehicle.

Unsecured creditors do not have top priority in being repaid in U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which are designed to maximize the chances of survival of the company seeking reorganization and protection from its creditors.

It was thus far from certain whether AsiaSat could realistically hope to recover its $31.5 million deposit. As the months passed and it became increasingly likely that Sea Launch would return to operations, AsiaSat agreed to a compromise.

In contracting with Sea Launch, AsiaSat is adding strength to Sea Launch’s business plan and making it more likely that the launch-services provider will win court approval for its reorganization and emerge from Chapter 11.

Under the deal, signed July 8 and disclosed by AsiaSat to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in a document dated July 9, Sea Launch will provide AsiaSat with a $16.5 million credit to be used for a future launch.

The launch, to occur between January 2012 and December 2014 for a satellite not yet identified, is priced at between $105 million and $114 million, with the final figure depending on when the launch occurs.

Subtracting the credit, the net cost to AsiaSat will be between $88.85 million and $97.85 million.

“[T]he entering into the launch services contract provides the company with a better recovery position of the claim and is a better alternative to the recovery proposal,” AsiaSat said in its stock exchange filing.

The contract also gives AsiaSat the right to terminate the deal if it concludes, before it begins making fresh milestone payments, that Sea Launch is incapable of meeting the launch dates because of hiccups in production of rocket hardware or other issues.

If AsiaSat terminates the contract, Sea Launch will make a cash payment of 17.5 percent of the agreed credit, or $2.83 million, according to AsiaSat.

AsiaSat has one satellite, formerly called AsiaSat 5C and now named AsiaSat 7, under construction at Space Systems/Loral. It is also reviewing options for a satellite to be called AsiaSat 6, AsiaSat Chief Executive Peter Jackson said in a July 13 e-mail. No decision has been made on which satellite will be launched under the Sea Launch contract. “We have done this to get a good deal and of course to assist in the business plan that they will be submitting to the court,” he said.