Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Terran Orbital takes charge after switching propulsion suppliers on satellite program

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May14,2024

WASHINGTON — Terran Orbital took a $13 million charge in its first quarter that the company blamed on problems with a supplier to deliver propulsion systems for a Space Development Agency program.

Terran Orbital reported $27.2 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2024, down $1 million from the same quarter of 2023. The company said that the revenue included a $13.1 million negative impact from unfavorable estimate-at-completion adjustments, mostly from a single program.

Company executive explained in a May 14 earnings call that charge came primarily from having to switch propulsion systems subcontractors on that program. “Propulsion has been the number-one problem child here,” said Marc Bell, chief executive of Terran Orbital. “Unfortunately, we picked a propulsion manufacturer who was unable to deliver the product. That caused us to do some redesigns to accommodate a new propulsion manufacturer.”

Terran Orbital did not identify the affected program or the subcontractor, but noted they had concerns about the supplier since last year. “As disclosed in our third quarter 2023 earnings call, our team made a strategic decision to arrange for an alternative subcontractor as a contingency plan,” said Mathieu Riffel, acting chief financial officer. “Unfortunately, our intuition proved correct as evidenced by ongoing challenges by the subcontractor in 2024.”

He added that the majority of the $13.1 million charge “reflects our complete pivot away from the initial subcontractor.”

In that earlier earnings call in November 2023, Bell said the program in question was a contract to provide 42 satellite buses for Lockheed Martin for that company’s Transport Layer Tranche 1 contract with the Space Development Agency. He also said the propulsion supplier that was struggling was Astra, which produces electric propulsion systems.

“The reality is propulsion with Astra has been quite a challenge,” Bell said then, stating that Terran Orbital was “hedging its bets” by bringing on a second, unnamed propulsion provider as a backup. “If they don’t deliver, we’ll still have all our engines,” he said of Astra, adding that if Astra did come through Terran Orbital would have “a lot of extra engines for the next program.”

Bell said in the May 14 call that the new propulsion supplier would deliver the first eight units by the end of the month and a “steady cadence” of deliveries after that. “We’re obviously pushing them to move faster as we will be done with our space vehicles long before the propulsion is done.”

Astra, which has offered its Astra Spacecraft Engine propulsion systems after the acquisition of Apollo Fusion in 2021, has been in financial difficulty and announced in March it would go private after considering bankruptcy. The company, which has yet to complete that transaction, informed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission May 14 it would not be able to submit quarterly financial results on time as it works to complete that deal and arrange additional financing.

Ongoing strategic review and Rivada work

Terran Orbital said little about its ongoing strategic review or the proposal by Lockheed Martin to acquire the company for $1 per share, an offer that Lockheed withdrew at the end of April.

Terran Orbital did disclose that its consideration of the offer included an in-person meeting with Lockheed officials April 16, and that it left the door open for a different deal. “We are committed to maximizing stockholder value and remain open to further exploring if there is value to be created for our stockholders through future commercial and strategic arrangements or transactions with Lockheed Martin,” James LaChance, chair of the special committee of Terran Orbital’s board leading the strategic review, said in a statement.

In the earning call, Bell deferred any updates about the review to that special committee. “The special committee does not intend to provide any updates unless and until it deems further disclosure is appropriate,” he said. “We value Lockheed Martin as a customer, investor and strategic partner, and look forward to continued collaboration under our strategic cooperation agreement.”

Terran Orbital, which reported an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) loss of $28.2 million, said it was working to achieve positive EBITDA, but Bell suggested that effort was being affected by problems potential customers other than Lockheed were having raising money.

He said the current state of capital markets “have constrained the capital for our customers’ constellation plans” which have, in turn, affected his company. “We share our shareholders’ frustration with some delays our company and industry have experienced. With that, we are steadfast in our confidence and long-term prospects for the industry and our company’s positioning.”

Terran Orbital’s biggest constellation customer is Rivada Space Networks, who awarded Terran Orbital a $2.4 billion contract in 2023 for 300 satellites. Work on that contract has been slow, though, and Terran Orbital said in April it had recognized only $6.9 million in revenue from that contract through the end of 2023.

That contract also had a “modest” contribution to revenue in in the first quarter, Bell said, as Terran Orbital works to complete a preliminary design review of the satellite design for Rivada by the end of this quarter. He said his company had “agreed in principle” on a payment schedule for later phases of the contract to keep the program on schedule.

Bell declined to comment on any knowledge he had of Rivada’s efforts to raise the money needed to build and launch that constellation. He suggested, though, that the future his company did not depend on that contract.

“We have lots of other customers,” he said when asked if he had any concerns about the Rivada contract falling apart. “It’s just upside for us at the end of the day.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Terran Orbital takes charge after switching propulsion suppliers on satellite program”
  1. Switching propulsion suppliers on the satellite program was definitely a tough call for Terran Orbital. It’s a shame that the initial manufacturer couldn’t deliver, but it’s great to see them making the necessary adjustments to keep the project moving forward. Hopefully, the new supplier will bring better results.

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