GeoEye Earnings Sharply Higher on GeoEye-1 Sales

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PARIS — Earth observation services provider GeoEye Inc. said Nov. 10 its revenue will increase by 12 percent to 16 percent in 2010 after even larger expected 2009 gains the company attributed to the introduction of its GeoEye-1 high-resolution optical imaging satellite.

Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye said the U.S. government’s appetite for satellite imagery is so large that the company sees no real threat to its revenue base when its competitor, DigitalGlobe, brings its WorldView-2 satellite into operation early in 2010. WorldView-2 was launched in October and is reported to be in good health.

In a Nov. 10 conference call with investors, GeoEye Chief Executive Matthew O’Connell said the rising tide of demand from U.S. government agencies, and to a lesser extent from international customers, will lift both GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.

For now, GeoEye is taking advantage of the fact that GeoEye-1, launched in September 2008 and operational since February, is delivering on its revenue promise, especially with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, NGA.

A glitch in one of the satellite’s imaging modes, which had given GeoEye and its investors a scare, is now forgotten. Company officials said the anomaly is having no effect on customer demand for GeoEye-1.

In addition to permitting GeoEye to receive full monthly $12.5 million payments from NGA, the satellite is winning unexpected NGA and other U.S. government business. GeoEye officials cautioned investors not to expect these supplemental payments to continue.

For the nine months ending Sept. 30, GeoEye reported revenue of $197.9 million, an 87 percent increase over the previous year, before GeoEye-1 was in service. Operating income for the first nine months of 2009 was $34.1 million, a 178 percent increase.

O’Connell said the company expects full-year 2009 revenue to be between $275 million and $280 million. For 2010, he said, “a conservative outlook” is that revenue will increase to between $310 million and $320 million.

The U.S. government accounts for about two-thirds of GeoEye revenue, and O’Connell made clear that the company’s dependence on U.S. government orders will remain high for the foreseeable future. But international sales, at 27 percent of revenue for the first nine months of 2009, increased by 41 percent compared with 2008.

O’Connell said he did not know whether WorldView-2, once it enters service, will have any material effect on GeoEye’s financial performance in 2010 or will marginally reduce NGA’s demand for GeoEye-1 imagery.

GeoEye’s current NextView contract with NGA expires in March but may be extended to December 2010. Company officials expect NGA next spring to enter into a replacement contract, called EnhancedView. Details of how NGA will structure EnhancedView, and whether the agency will limit the EnhancedView partners to DigitalGlobe and GeoEye or invite non-U.S. companies to take part, are unknown.

The NextView contract terms included NGA’s paying nearly half of the $483.5 million in GeoEye-1 construction and launch costs, in addition to the monthly guarantee of image purchases, assuming GeoEye-1 maintains its image-gathering requirements.

Depending on the shape of EnhancedView, GeoEye would use the contract signature to accelerate work on a GeoEye-2 satellite. The company has already spent $59.4 million on GeoEye-2 as of Sept. 30, mainly on early development of an imaging camera to be built by ITT Corp. Moving full-speed ahead on GeoEye-2 would make the satellite ready for launch in late 2012, with commercial service to start in early 2013.

Without an EnhancedView contract, GeoEye-2 development would slow so that the satellite is ready for service in 2016 or 2017, to replace GeoEye-1.

In a Nov. 9 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, GeoEye said it currently has no intention to replace its Ikonos high-resolution satellite or its Orbview-2 medium-resolution spacecraft.

Ikonos, launched in late 1999, is already past its contracted seven-year service life but is expected to last “several more years,” GeoEye Chief Operating Officer William Schuster said in the Nov. 10 conference call. GeoEye maintains a $20 million insurance policy for Ikonos.

GeoEye’s Orbview-2 satellite, which is mainly used for the SeaStar fisheries information service and has suffered numerous on-board glitches in recent months, will not be replaced either, according to GeoEye. The satellite is currently not insured.

GeoEye has insured GeoEye-1 for $250 million, a sum insufficient to replace GeoEye-1.

GeoEye Chief Financial Officer Joseph F. Greeves said the company expects to generate $75 million to $80 million per year in operating cash flow, which along with $225 million of available cash as of late 2010 should be sufficient for the company to build GeoEye-2 without seeking outside financing.