Delay in Securing Equity Means Jabiru-1 Satellite Won’t Launch until Mid-2015

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PARIS — Startup Australian satellite operator NewSat said Feb. 25 its Middle East- and Africa-focused Jabiru-1 satellite project is back on track after several months of delays related to financing, but that the satellite’s launch will be delayed by about a year, to mid-2015.

Southbank-based NewSat assured investors that with fresh commitments of about $108 million in new shares and a nearly 50 percent reduction in the amount of equity the company is required to raise as a condition of its U.S. and French export-credit financing, the two credit agencies will be able to sign firm financial support commitments by April.

In addition to the $108 million it is raising by issuing new shares of its stock, NewSat said it had secured $30 million in commitments to the Jabiru project from several Singapore-based investors, including Ching Chiat Kwong, a real estate developer.

If Jabiru-1 remains on this new schedule, the U.S. Export-Import Bank will commit to loans totaling $299 million for the construction of Jabiru-1, a mixed Ka-, Ku- and S-band satellite under construction by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif.

At the same time, the French export-credit agency, Coface, has agreed to guarantee a loan of $108 million to support Jabiru-1’s launch aboard a European Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket. The satellite will weigh some 5,950 kilograms at launch.

In a prospectus sent to shareholders, NewSat said the two export-credit agencies’ support carries an interest rate of between 2 percent and 3 percent per year, and will be paid back over 8.5 years starting when Jabiru-1 is operational in orbit.

The issuance of $108 million in new shares, plus the $30 million in fresh financing, helped to persuade the U.S. and French export-credit agencies to ease the amount of equity they insisted NewSat raise before approving the loans, from $200 million to $105 million.

Jabiru-1 will operate at 91.5 degrees east assigned to Malaysian satellite operator Measat, which has entered into several cross-lease agreements with NewSat. The satellite will carry some 7.6 GHz of Ka-band capacity to be distributed over 24 spot beams, three regional beams and two steerable beams over the Middle East, Southwest Africa and East Africa.

In addition, Jabiru-1 is carrying 18 Ku-band transponders and one transponder in S-band, with both frequencies to be used by Measat for that company’s markets in India and Malaysia. Measat has agreed to pay NewSat $197 million over 15 years for the frequency rights, with an option to purchase up to $76.5 million in additional Ku-band capacity, NewSat said.

NewSat said coordination of the orbital slot and the associated Ku-band frequencies has been completed, and that the S- and Ka-band frequencies are still being coordinated with other operators at the International Telecommunication Union, a Geneva-based United Nations affiliate that regulates orbital slots and frequency rights.

While based in Australia, NewSat is not focusing its Ka-band beams on Australian territory, especially since Australia’s NBN Co., created by the government to roll out terrestrial, wireless and satellite broadband to every Australian, ordered two all-Ka-band satellites of its own.

NewSat said it is the Middle East and Africa where the potential is greatest and where the company will first develop its business.

NewSat is not the only satellite operator eyeing the Middle East as a region with high potential for Ka-band given the crowding at some Ku-band locations.

Middle East Heating Up

The Arabsat consortium of Saudi Arabia recently announced it is redesigning its Badr-7 satellite to carry Ka-band for Miami-based Emerging Markets Communications (EMC), a global satellite services supplier. In cooperation with the government of Qatar, Eutelsat is planning to launch Ka-band capacity later this year over the Middle East.

Yahsat of the United Arab Emirates has two satellites in orbit and has made Ka-band services for military and commercial customers a key point of its strategy.

In its prospectus, NewSat said Ku- and C-band transponder prices in the Middle East have been climbing for several years, reaching some $1.4 million per year per 36-MHz transponder for C-band and nearly $1.9 million per transponder for Ku-band in 2012.

NewSat forecasts that Ka-band pricing will track that of Ku-band, approaching $2 million per year by 2016.

NewSat said it has sold 48 percent of Jabiru-1’s first three years of capacity, including the Measat transaction, and that other satellites in the Middle East/African regions NewSat is targeting are 90 percent full. The company said Jabiru-1 should be 60 percent full by the end of its first year in orbit. A 70 percent average fill rate over 15 years would yield $3 billion in revenue, the company said.