RBC Signals construction of a ground station in Alaska Credit: RBC Signals

SAN FRANCISCO – Space Leasing International, a new business formed by the multinational Libra Group, announced plans June 20 to acquire 21 ground stations to lease to RBC Signals.

That may be just the beginning. SLI boasts a deal pipeline that includes satellites in orbit, satellites not yet launched, space launch pads and additional ground stations.

“We see so much advancement in the space economy that we are intentionally pursuing transactions across the entirety of the field,” Phaedra Chrousos, Libra Group chief strategy officer, told SpaceNews. “We don’t want to close ourselves off to helping grow a part of the sector that doesn’t even exist yet.”

Forming Space Leasing International

After 45 years of leasing assets in shipping, aviation and other fields — including $15 billion in transportation transactions in the last 15 years — Libra Group formed SLI because executives said they see enormous potential for growth in the space sector. In the early days of aviation, companies tended to manufacture, own and operate aircraft. Now, it’s common for three different entities to take on those roles.

“We believe that space economy is a nascent industry like the aviation industry once was,” Chrousos said. “Just like in aviation, over time there will be a bifurcation that splits the roles of the manufacturers, owners and operators. We aim to be a leading owner of these assets.”

RBC Signals Deal

Initially, SLI is acquiring a ground station that RBC Signals is building in the Alaskan Arctic. Over the next three years, SLI will work with RBC Signals to construct or acquire 20 additional ground stations.

The deal is “huge for RBC Signals” because many of the early-stage space companies that come to RBC Signals for satellite communications services don’t have enough funding to pay upfront for the equipment they need, said Christopher Richins, RBC Signals CEO and founder. “And right now, there aren’t a lot of traditional sources of financing for building ground station assets. This deal allows us to tell our customers we can buy the antennas they need.”

For RBC Signals, identifying a reliable source of capital for its next 21 ground stations, frees the company to expand its business, for example, by establishing lunar communications capabilities, Richins said.

Market Timing

SLI is moving into the space sector at a time when venture capital and private equity is becoming harder to attract. Space Capital reported in April that space investment for the first quarter of 2023 was down 53 percent compared with the first quarter of 2022.

“While some large companies have no need at least in the short term for alternative ways to finance their assets, there is a large group of companies that can only finance themselves by selling equity,” said SLI CEO Alejandro Kerschen. “Those companies would certainly benefit from somebody else owning the asset. What we are doing is going to help that emerging, very innovative segment of the industry.”

Libra Group and SLI have spoken with more than 30 space companies while preparing to enter the space sector.

“We’ve found that the founders and CEOs we’ve spoken to so far have liked the idea of working with SLI to scale their manufacturing and acquire new assets without having to raise dilutive capital,” Chrousos said. “We believe SLI can accelerate a lot of these really innovative companies that would otherwise we need to go back to the market to get capital to move forward.”

SLI Leadership

SLI is led by Alejandro Kerschen, whose resume includes stints at Citibank, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas and Atlantic Alliance Ltd., a corporate finance practice he managed for the last 20 years. Kerschen joined Libra Group in June to become SLI’s CEO.

“We look at space assets as physical assets that could be owned by us and leased out in the same way Libra Group owns and leases other assets,” Kerschen said. “For example, look at what the telecom sector is doing, separating infrastructure towers from telecom companies. We see similarities to ground stations and satellite companies.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...