TerreStar Files for Bankruptcy, Court OKs EchoStar Cash Infusion

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PARIS — TerreStar Networks on Oct. 19 became the latest mobile satellite services provider to seek protection from its creditors under U.S bankruptcy law and asked its bankruptcy court to allow EchoStar Corp. to invest $75 million immediately to enable TerreStar to remain operational while its reorganization proceeds.

In asking the court to approve the emergency funding even before the judge has had time to fully review the case, TerreStar is invoking a section of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that permits such a move to avoid “immediate and irreparable harm” to a company.

Reston, Va.-based TerreStar and a dozen affiliated companies have been promised an immediate cash injection of $18 million from Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar, which also has been active in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization of TerreStar competitor DBSD North America, formerly ICO North America.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court handling the case on Oct. 20 approved the emergency EchoStar funding on an interim basis pending a further evaluation of it. Like ICO, TerreStar has launched a large satellite covering North America using the S-band, or 2-gigahertz, section of the radio spectrum to provide mobile services to government and corporate networks. Both satellites have been largely unused up to now.

A decade ago, mobile satellite operators Globalstar and Iridium both sought Chapter 11 protection. As is the case with most Chapter 11 filers, Globalstar and Iridium emerged largely debt-free and have since built businesses that are now building their second-generation satellite constellations.

Industry officials have said for years that a combined DBSD/TerreStar business would stand a much greater chance of surviving than two companies building overlapping businesses in a rough market. Inmarsat of London and LightSquared of Reston, Va., have teamed to provide mobile broadband service in the United States using satellite L-band spectrum.

Hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, which is financing LightSquared while it looks for other investors, is a major TerreStar shareholder as well.

In a statement filed late Oct. 19 to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, TerreStar Chief Executive Jeffrey Epstein said the company, which has raised nearly $1 billion from investors, has assets with a book value of about $1.4 billion. Long-term debt stood at $1.2 billion as of Oct. 19. Other liabilities totaled $400 million.

TerreStar has 107 employees. The company owns the TerreStar-1 satellite, launched in July 2009, and an associated network of ground stations, and has paid 95 percent of the cost of an identical TerreStar-2 spacecraft, which is under construction at Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif. TerreStar said Loral, which also provides services for controlling TerreStar-1, has outstanding claims totaling $35.7 million against TerreStar.

In his statement, Epstein said the company has been reviewing debt-restructuring options since April and eventually settled on a transaction with EchoStar. EchoStar, which has an unsold S-band mobile communications satellite of its own in storage at Loral, has agreed to provide $75 million in debtor-in-possession funding to permit TerreStar to remain in business while it spends months in Chapter 11 proceedings.

In addition, EchoStar has promised to provide guarantees for up to $100 million of a proposed $125 million preferred stock rights offering. EchoStar has further agreed to support a proposal to convert some $500 million in TerreStar debt into equity as part of the Chapter 11 restructuring.

The initial cash payment of $18 million under the $75 million debtor-in-possession funding would carry an interest rate of 15 percent. TerreStar said it needs about $9.5 million in the next 30 days.

Epstein sought to portray TerreStar as a company on the threshold of building a successful business that needs only to secure the additional capital to complete the system’s commercial rollout and cover marketing costs. Any delay in providing cash, he said, could be fatal to the enterprise.

“The continued viability of the Debtors’ businesses and the success of the Debtors’ reorganization efforts hinge on obtaining immediate access to financing,” Epstein told the bankruptcy court. “Absent an immediate infusion of capital or access to financing, the Debtors simply cannot operate their businesses.”