Astrium Strong in 2009 Despite Loss of Galileo

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MUNICH, Germany — Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services provider reported a 12 percent increase in revenue and a 33 percent increase in backlog in 2009 compared with 2008, with its services business growing by nearly 18 percent, Astrium parent EADS reported March 9.

In a conference call with investors, EADS Chief Financial Officer Hans Peter Ring said 2009 was “the most successful year in the history of Astrium despite the loss of Galileo.” Astrium was bested by OHB Technology of Germany in the first round of competition to build Europe’s Galileo timing and navigation satellites.

While the Galileo loss was a psychological blow to Astrium, its effect on Astrium’s total business from a financial perspective is relatively small, especially since the Astrium-owned Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain is a major OHB subcontractor for the program.

Astrium reported revenue of 4.8 billion euros ($6.9 billion at Dec. 31 exchange rates). Pretax profit, at 5.4 percent of revenue, was marginally down, in percentage terms, from 5.5 percent in 2008. Backlog, helped by a 4 billion-euro order for 35 heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets, stood at 14.65 billion euros on Dec. 31, up 33 percent from a year earlier.

Ring said Ariane 5 production at Astrium Space Transportation and the construction of Earth observation spacecraft at Astrium Satellites both posted improved profitability in 2009.

Astrium Services’ revenue in 2009 was 960 million euros, up 17.8 percent over 2008 despite the drop in the value of the British pound against the euro. Astrium Services’ biggest contract, now stretching at least to 2022, is with the British Defence Ministry for satellite and other beyond-line-of-sight communications.

Astrium Services increased its stake in Earth observation services provider Spot Image to 81 percent in mid-2008, meaning 2009 was the first full year of ownership of that Toulouse, France-based company, which pulls in some 110 million euros in annual revenue.

Ring said the results in 2009 also were helped by a one-time catch-up payment from an unnamed commercial telecommunications satellite customer on a contract he said is only marginally profitable.

The Satellites division accounted for 37 percent of Astrium’s 2009 revenue, while the Space Transportation division, which includes work on France’s M-51 strategic missile and equipment for the international space station in addition to its Ariane 5 rocket work, accounted for 43 percent of revenue.

In its financial statement dated March 9, EADS reported that in late December, the Italian public prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against Astrium alleging “failure to file a tax declaration and attempted fraud” based on past contract work in Italy. The company did not detail what contract work is at issue with Italian authorities.