DigitalGlobe Expects 25 Percent Growth in 2011 Commercial Sales

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MUNICH — Satellite Earth imagery provider DigitalGlobe on Feb. 28 said it expects its commercial business to grow faster than its dominant U.S. government revenue base in 2011 as the government’s fiscal situation puts downward pressure on spending.

DigitalGlobe’s commercial business, which in 2010 grew by nearly 38 percent, to $70.1 million, will increase by at least 25 percent in 2011, company officials said in a Feb. 28 conference call.

Overall revenue in 2011 is expected to grow by around 10 percent, to $355 million, as the company benefits from the first full year’s effects of the 10-year, $3.55 billion EnhancedView contract to provide imagery to the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The contract went into effect in September.

The EnhancedView contract, which NGA awarded as a series of one-year renewable agreements, is mainly composed of what is known as a Service-Level Agreement. This piece of the award guarantees Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe $20.8 million per month in NGA revenue so long as the company meets agreed-upon targets relating to the volume, quality and delivery speed of data. The revenue increases to $25 million per month starting in September 2014.

But beyond this element of the contract lies another revenue possibility, valued at up to $750 million, in what NGA calls value-added services. These will include lowering the orbit of DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 satellite at NGA’s request, thereby increasing the resolution of the imagery collected; adding ground stations to the company’s network to boost imagery delivery speed and volume; and other services that NGA may or may not choose to purchase.

This is the piece of the contract that is most at risk if the U.S. government budget uncertainty drags on beyond March, outgoing DigitalGlobe Chief Executive Jill D. Smith said in the conference call.

Smith said that, at least for now, there is no indication that the Service-Level Agreement, which is a binding contract, will be affected by the ongoing budget battle in Washington, which has prevented the government from enacting a 2011 budget.

DigitalGlobe on Feb. 28 reported that revenue in 2010 increased by 14.3 percent, to $322.2 million, with the EnhancedView payments starting in September contributing to the increase. EnhancedView replaced a previous multiyear NGA contract, called NextView, which provided less monthly revenue to DigitalGlobe.

DigitalGlobe said its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for 2010 was 56.6 percent of revenue, but that in 2011 the EBITDA margin should climb to nearly 66 percent.

The defense and intelligence markets remain DigitalGlobe’s biggest revenue source, accounting for 78.2 percent of revenue in 2010. The NGA alone contributed 62.2 percent of DigitalGlobe’s total revenue in 2010.

But while commercial sales, at 21.8 percent of revenue in 2010, remain a distant second place in DigitalGlobe’s accounts, this sector is viewed as likely to grow most quickly in the near term. Smith said DigitalGlobe continues to add new commercial accounts to its portfolio and that commercial revenue will increase by at least 25 percent in 2011.

DigitalGlobe operates three satellites. The QuickBird spacecraft, which is the least important of the three in terms of revenue impact, is scheduled for retirement in mid-2012. The WorldView-1 and WorldView-2 satellites are expected to remain in service until 2018 and 2021, respectively.

WorldView-3, which like WorldView-2 will include an eight-band multispectral imager, is being built to meet NGA’s EnhancedView contract requirements and is scheduled for launch in late 2014.

Also under construction are seven regional ground stations to be placed into service in 2011 and 2012 as part of the EnhancedView contract terms. These ground facilities will permit DigitalGlobe to provide more imagery more quickly by allowing the satellites to download data at more-frequent intervals from their polar low Earth orbit.

Under the EnhancedView contract, NGA will have access to 50 percent of the capacity of WorldView-1 and WorldView-2 until mid-2014, and to 60 percent of DigitalGlobe’s total capacity, including WorldView-3, after that, DigitalGlobe said in a Feb. 28 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

DigitalGlobe reported some $40 million in revenue in 2010 from its Direct Access Program, which allows customers that have received the approval of the U.S. government to directly task and download DigitalGlobe satellite imagery in their geographic region.

The Direct Access Program is also viewed as an avenue for growth, and DigitalGlobe for a year has been promising that a fifth partner would be added to the stable of four already under contract.

That fifth customer has not yet signed on, and Smith suggested it was because DigitalGlobe has set limits on the amount of time onboard a satellite the partner may have given the company’s obligations to other customers, especially NGA.