Globalstar Slows Payments for New System

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  Space News Business

Globalstar Slows Payments for New System

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 21 April 2009
02:10 pm ET





PARIS — Mobile satellite services operator Globalstar Inc., its revenue stream slowing to a trickle because its current satellites no longer provide regular two-way communications, has slowed payments to contractors building its second-generation satellites and is unlikely to launch the first of those craft before early 2010, according to industry officials.

A promised $574 million loan guarantee by the French export-credit agency, Coface, which is still being finalized, will probably not provide the necessary cash injection in time to prevent the first launch from slipping into 2010, officials said.

A delay of several months would not be dramatic under normal circumstances, but Globalstar is not operating under normal circumstances. The Milpitas, Calif., company is relying on relatively low-revenue one-way communications, especially its Spot emergency-messaging product, to tide it over until the new generation satellites are able to restore the company’s core two-way voice links.

Globalstar’s
ability to maintain two-way links has been declining since late 2006 due to a degradation of the S-band antennas on its current satellites, which the company speculates is caused by radiation exposure at their 1,400-kilometer altitude operating orbit.

The longer it takes to launch fresh satellites, the longer Globalstar will struggle to generate sufficient revenue to pay for their construction. That in turn will make it difficult to accelerate work on the second-generation system and prolong the period during which Globalstar will be dependent on a meager cash flow.

Globalstar
has said its second-generation constellation will cost $1.26 billion. That figure includes the construction of 48 satellites by ThalesAlenia Space of Cannes, France, but the launch of just the first 24 aboard four Russian Soyuz rockets operated by Europe’s Ari

anespace
launch consortium. The company has said the first 24 satellites are being launched for $216.1 million.

Globalstar
reported a net loss of $68 million on revenue of $86.1 million in 2008. Revenue was $98.4 million in 2007 and $136.7 million in 2006. The declines have tracked the degradation of two-way communications on the current satellites.

Globalstar’s
recent cash-flow difficulties have triggered substantial amendments to the ThalesAlenia Space and Arianespace contracts, parts of which are disclosed in a March 31 Globalstar filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Globalstar
and ThalesAlenia Space officials have long said their 48-satellite contract, valued at 670.3 million euros ($904.3 million), included terms to permit the builder to adjust the delivery schedule to Globalstar’s cash payments.

Globalstar
officials have emphasized their right, under the contract, to accelerate deliveries by up to four months if they agree to make supplemental payments to ThalesAlenia Space of up to 13.4 million euros.

Globalstar
has already exercised this option in part, advancing by some five weeks the delivery dates. Until late 2008, officials had counted on the first six satellites being delivered in time for a mid-November launch.

But since December, Globalstar’s reduced cash flow has made it more difficult to pay ThalesAlenia Space despite the regular backing from Thermo Capital, a company that has no visible interest in satellite communications save for the fact that its chairman and principal owner, Jay Monroe, is also chief executive and principal shareholder of Globalstar.

In February, ThalesAlenia Space and Globalstar further agreed to adjust the work schedule to Globalstar’s ability to pay.

Blaise
Jaeger, ThalesAlenia Space vice president for telecommunications, denied reports that the company had issued a stop-work order on Globalstar because of nonpayment.

“We have been working with our customer to find a solution to enable us to take account of the fact of the likely Coface financing,” Jaeger said April 10.

Anthony J. Navarra, Globalstar’s president of global operations, acknowledged April 10 that the ThalesAlenia Space contract work has been slowed. But he said key subcontracts related to satellite thrusters, on-board processors and momentum wheels has continued apace, meaning the net effect on schedule has been minimized. He nonetheless said it is possible the first Globalstar launch will not occur before “very early in 2010.”

Jaeger said that for ThalesAlenia Space, there is little risk that the Coface loan guarantee to a consortium of French banks led by BNP Paribas – carrying the exceptionally low interest rate of 6.3 percent – will not be concluded.

“Our sense is that it’s just the final paperwork with the banks that needs to be completed,” Jaeger said. “I realize that ‘final paperwork’ can include a lot of things, but given the approval by the Coface credit committee I don’t see much doubt about it.”

Thales
Alenia Space is participating in the Coface-backed loan but not to any substantial extent, Jaeger said. He declined to be more specific.

Navarra
said the Coface package is likely to be completed by mid-May, perhaps earlier, and that the remaining issues among the participating banks are not major.

In its SEC filing, Globalstar refers to an amended contract with Arianespace for the launch of the first 24 second-generation satellites. The original contract had these launches occurring from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, but the new Soyuz launch facility there will not be ready in time.

The satellites will instead be launched from Soyuz’s principal operating base, the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

But despite the probability that operating at Baikonur is less expensive than operating from the French Guiana site – Soyuz rockets are delivered by rail to Baikonur, and by rail and ship to French Guiana – Globalstar will be paying more under the amended contract, according to the SEC filing.

Navarra
said the original Globalstar contract with Arianespace assumed a slightly higher price for launches from Baikonur because the Soyuz commercial-launch facility there was otherwise about to be shut down. He said Globalstar continues to view its contract with Arianespace as “very favorable for Globalstar.”

To preserve cash, Globalstar will be able to defer up to 75 percent of certain payments due to Arianespace until after the launches occur, in return for paying interest to Arianespace at annual rates of between 8.5 percent and 12 percent, according to the SEC filing.