GomSpace shuts down constellation spinoff

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WASHINGTON — European smallsat builder GomSpace has entered a settlement agreement with Aerial & Maritime, a company Gomspace helped start and for which it had already built eight satellites. 

GomSpace said June 16 that Aerial & Maritime will be liquidated, and that GomSpace will retain ownership of the eight satellites, designed to track ships and airplanes from an equatorial low Earth orbit, none of which were launched.

In a June 17 interview, GomSpace chief executive Niels Buus said the coronavirus pandemic wiped out hope that Aerial & Maritime, which was struggling to raise funds, could find investors. 

“The main reason is now we got into this COVID-19 situation where most airplanes are standing on the ground,” Buus said. “We believe it will take some years before that industry again is going to be good to pursue.”

GomSpace will attempt to sell the eight cubesats, or find another purpose for them, Buus said. 

Aerial & Maritime, founded in 2015 and based in Mauritius, planned to compete with Iridium’s spinoff Aireon in tracking aircraft and with Canadian company exactEarth in ship tracking. But throughout 2019, Aerial & Maritime had been limited in its operations due to its inability to raise funding, according to GomSpace’s fourth quarter 2019 results, released in February.

Buus declined to say how much investment Aerial & Maritime needed to complete its constellation of 80 to 100 satellites, saying only that it would have been a “substantial amount of money” to scale up to that size.

“We did not deem that possible under these circumstances,” he said. 

GomSpace and the Norwegian government’s Investment Fund for Developing Countries (IFU) were the primary owners of Aerial & Maritime. 

IFU Communication Director Rune Nørgaard, did not respond to a June 17 SpaceNews inquiry as to whether the agency has canceled all future plans for Aerial & Maritime. 

Buus said the liquidation of Aerial & Maritime will not impact GomSpace’s projection of converting 160 million to 180 million Swedish krona ($17 million to $19.1 million) of backlog into 2020 revenue. 

GomSpace, in a news release, said the settlement will result in a reduction in backlog of around 14 million Swedish krona, and a roughly 12 million Swedish krona depreciation in equity interest in the spinoff.