July 01, 2016 Community

The Week in Space: Business Digest

A digest of last week's developments in space business.

NASA OIG issues report on future SpaceX collaboration after the Falcon 9 launch failure.

A NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report issued on June 28 examines renegotiations with SpaceX and issues recommendations for future missions. The report comes on the one-year anniversary of the Falcon 9 launch failure that had destroyed the Dragon spacecraft, with cargo valued at $112 million. SpaceX has now lowered its price for five future missions (SpX-16 through 20) that were added to SpaceX' Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract in December 2015. The report states that those missions will now be flown at discounted prices to help compensate for the SpX-7 failure.

Although the report has not stated the total value of the concessions made by SpaceX, it mentions that “NASA negotiated significant consideration in the form of Adapter hardware, integration services, [and] manifest flexibility” that will be provided to NASA at no cost. The overall cost of the CRS contract was $1.7 billion, already paid to SpaceX as of late March, 2016. That sum includes payments for missions that have not yet flown.

Aside from the financial aspect of future missions, the report also issued recommendations in risk management, suggesting that NASA's current approach of placing all cargo in the lowest risk classification regardless of the payload value may beed to be reassessed. It also recommends the use of unpressurized payload capacity on future Dragon missions.

NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier (associate administrator for human exploration and operations) and Terrence Wilcutt (chief of NASA office of safety and mission assurance) disagree with the recommendation on quantifying risk ratings, and have replied to the OIG's report, saying that risks for individual cargo missions were “managed by the program through well-established control board processes.”

Intelsat finds private funding to repurchase debt.

Dealing with allegations from Aurelius Capital Management LP (New York) that the company had violated debt covenants, Intelsat, an international satellite fleet operator headquartered in Luxembourg, has announced on June 30th that it had obtained a private placement of $490 million to finance the repurchase of a portion of three of its bonds. This news came after a multiple unsuccessful attempts by the company to obtain investment-bank underwriting support.

Aurelius, a private investment firm, had alleged that Intelsat was in loan default, making it apparently impossible for the satellite provider to find an investment bank to underwrite the bond repurchase during the last six-weeks.

According to Intelsat, the privately placed notes had a maturity date of 2022, carried a 9.5 percent interest rate and were sold at 98 percent of their face value. The maximum payment to holders of the three bonds had also been reduced from $625 million to $463 million, subject to tenders. The tender deadline has been extended to July 14th.

In its June 30 statement, Intelsat said owners of the three bonds have offered up a total of some $2.3 billion, or five times the maximum amount Intelsat set.

“As Intelsat moves to complete the tender offers, it expects to capture value for Intelsat while reducing overall leverage, resulting in a stronger overall financial structure, which benefits all stakeholders,” Intelsat said of the transaction.

$20 million raised by Orbital Insight

On June 27, Orbital Insight announced that it had raised $15 million in Series B funding from venture capital groups and garnered another $5 million in investment and product development work for In-Q-Tel, the non-profit investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community.

Orbital Insight’s Series B investment round was led by GV (formerly known as Google Ventures). New investor CME Ventures joined Sequoia Capital, Lux Capital and Bloomberg Beta, investment firms that already were backing Palo Alto, California-based Orbital Insight.

This additional funding will be used to expand the company's range of analytic data products. So far, Orbital Insight has had fairly small observation targets, which have included counting cars in parking lots and estimating the amount of oil stored in tanks based on the shadows of floating lids. But now the company wants to develop algorithms for over 100 additional targets, including cars, rucks, trains, ships, steel plant activity, refinery activity, imports, exports, oil drilling and deforestation. The company's staff is also expected to increase.

Orbital Insight is unique in that it does not fly its own satellites, but rather obtains data through contracts with constellation owners, including DigitalGlobe, Airbus, Planet, Rapid Eye and Urthecast. This enables the company to keep costs at bay and concentrate on software development for the Earth observation field.

According to James Crawford, Orbital Insight founder and CEO, “When we count cars, we count them in parking lots of every major U.S. retailer, in a million parking lots. When we look at oil in China, we ingest imagery of the whole country.” Crawford expects the Earth observation market to move to more precise target measurement, and a new need for additional types of geospatial information to be added, such as synthetic aperture radar data.

UNOOSA and SNC sign Dream Chaser Memorandum

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding toward defining one or more Dream Chaser missions that will host payloads from member countries.

According to this agreement, UNOOSA and SNC will work with member countries to develop an interface control document and payload hosting guide to allow payloads developed by participating countries to be hosted and operated on a dedicated mission, providing those countries affordable access to space. By utilizing Dream Chaser as a flexible SUV for LEO missions, countries will benefit from social, economic and educational opportunities.

Recently selected to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal services for the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract, SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is the only reusable, lifting-body, multi-mission-capable SUV with a commercial runway landing capability - anywhere in the world. The Dream Chaser is a safe, affordable, flexible and reliable system capable of crewed and uncrewed transportation services to LEO destinations such as the International Space Station.

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