EADS Space, which has been renamed Astrium, reported lower sales but improved gross profit margins and sharply higher orders for the first three months of 2006, parent company EADS announced May 16.

Beyond the first quarter, Astrium Satellites is seeing record order intake so far this year. Astrium Satellites Chief Executive Antoine Bouvier said that by the end of June, Astrium Satellites expects to have booked more than 1 billion euros ($1.29 billion) in new business since January.

Bouvier said Astrium is on track to repeat its 2005 performance, which made it Europe’s biggest satellite builder. Its prime competitor, Alcatel Alenia Space, reported revenues of 1.5 billion euros in 2005, a figure that includes the combined business of the former Alcatel Space and Alenia Space.

Astrium Satellites’ sales in 2005 totaled 1.8 billion euros, Bouvier said.

The orders this year include five commercial telecommunications satellites — two for Eutelsat of Paris, one for Telesat Canada, one for start-up operator Avanti Screenmedia of Britain, and an expected order from the Arabsat organization of Saudi Arabia to replace the satellite lost in a February launch failure.

The orders also include two small optical Earth observation satellites for the Algerian government, a 317 million-euro contract with the European Space Agency for the Gaia star-mapping satellite and a portion of a December contract for early development of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation.

EADS Chief Financial Officer Hans Peter Ring said during a press briefing May 16 that the Gaia satellite sale was booked in March, even though the public contract signing did not occur until May.

EADS reported May 16 that its entire space division, including the space transportation, ballistic missile and space services businesses, posted revenues of 493 million euros for the three months ending March 31. Revenues were down 4 percent from the previous year in part because early 2005 was an especially active year in the market for telecommunications satellites.

The company’s Ariane 5 business — EADS is prime contractor — also was strong in early 2006 because of a 30-rocket order that will be producing revenues for the next three years. The strategic missile division also benefited from a new contract for development of the French M51 missile, EADS said.

The space division reported a pretax profit of zero for the first quarter, better than the loss of 6 million euros a year earlier . Ring said pretax earnings for the space business will ramp up in 2007 and make a positive contribution to the parent company’s financial results.

New orders for the entire space business totaled 1.6 billion euros — more than double the bookings of a year ago. Total space division backlog stood at 11.9 billion euros as of March 31, up 9 percent from a year earlier.

The first-quarter revenues were 46 percent from space transportation, 44 percent from satellites and 10 percent from space services, the latter division being responsible for the British Skynet 5 military satellite telecommunications services contract.

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