PARIS — Will export-credit financing for the satellite sector dry up as a result of the 2015 bankruptcy of NewSat of Australia, which had received backing from both the Export-Import Bank of the United States and France’s Coface?
Will the stress on commercial launch manifests, especially SpaceX’s, slow development of new satellite programs?
Both issues were addressed by two of the principal satellite manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus Defence and Space, in separate interviews. They also gave their assessment of what the market in 2016 is likely to be.
The two companies have made extensive use of export-credit financing. Both their home agencies, Ex-Im for Boeing and Coface for Airbus, were deeply involved in the NewSat bankruptcy, with Ex-Im taking the bigger financial hit.
NewSat was the first large satellite failure for Ex-Im and Coface, and whether that experience will cause either to raise the bar on financing of future satellite projects, especially those from start-up operators, is an open issue.
Airbus’ joint venture with OneWeb LLC of Britain’s Channel Islands to design a constellation of 900 satellites in France and to build most of them in the United States, and to launch 700-plus of them with Arianespace, is likely to seek support from both Coface and Ex-Im.
On launch manifests, Arianespace of Europe is just about full until 2018. Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX’s manifest, showing at least 16 and perhaps more launches planned for 2016, is a question mark.
The March 4 launch of the SES-9 telecommunications satellite for SES of Luxembourg marked the first use of SpaceX’s redesigned Falcon 9 Full Thrust variant for a customer that needed all the rocket’s power.
Whether SpaceX can, on the back of the SES-9 launch, throttle up its launch cadence to work off its backlog will be one of the most-watched developments in the space industry in 2016.
Here is how Mark Spiwak, president of El Segundo, Calfornia-based Boeing Satellite Systems International; and Eric Beranger, head of Airbus’ satellite division, addressed them:
On export-credit financing:
Spiwak: We are still trying to figure out how this plays out with Ex-Im, and what the impact is of NewSat’s bankruptcy and how Ex-Im sets its qualification parameters for customers.
They have to get a new board set up and I think they’ll get that done. But the question is how they view startups versus established operators. What is their risk posture?
We had the ABS-8 contract [for ABS of Bermuda] before the Ex-Im shutdown occurred. We are now trying to help ABS get financing.
Beranger: Ex-Im and Coface are both pros and I think they will be able to make their judgments based on the satellite market and not be overly concerned [with the NewSat bankruptcy].
The market is the prime motivator and I see no reason why that should change. Remember we had a couple of spectacular bankruptcies a decade or so ago, and after that people were more cautious for a time. But eventually the market returned to equilibrium. I think the same thing will happen here.
In the specific case of Airbus, we have not yet confronted a problem here.
On whether the full SpaceX and Arianespace launch manifests pose an issue for the industry and start-up projects:
Spiwak: We have satellites in the factory ready to go and start generating revenue for their owners. They don’t generate much revenue in our factory. The Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS -2A satellites have been in storage for several months now.
Beranger: The people we talk to about new satellite projects are aware of the situation and can factor the state of launch manifests into their programs. So it really doesn’t affect their decision.
How does the market look in 2016?
Spiwak: I hope it’s better than 2015, which despite a screaming end, with lots of orders, was a sub-par year. So we are hoping for a par-plus year in 2016, with 20-25 commercial geostationary satellites ordered.
Beranger: I recall everyone was predicting a weak year in 2015 and in the end it was not so bad. I would expect a reasonably good year in 2016.