GeoEye building satellite, awaits decision on major contract award

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, May 3, 2010

Six years after emerging from bankruptcy, Dulles-based satellite imaging company GeoEye is busy building its next satellite and readying for a major contract decision from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The firm already uses the high-resolution GeoEye-1 satellite to take detailed images of the earth, capturing key spots like Haiti in the aftermath of the January earthquake and the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland that disrupted air travel.

GeoEye is expecting to launch a new satellite in late 2012. The 4,600-pound satellite, dubbed GeoEye-2, will be able to take even more detailed images of the earth, showing objects half the size of a baseball diamond's home plate, said Mark E. Brender, GeoEye's vice president for corporate communications.

Lockheed Martin is building GeoEye-2 in Sunnyvale, Calif., and it is slated to be operational in early 2013.

The company is also competing a new contract award, called EnhancedView. The program is the follow-on to the NextView program, under which GeoEye now provides images of the earth to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Calling it "NextView on steroids," Brender said the new program will push industry to build satellites that can collect more data at a faster rate. If GeoEye wins the contract, it would provide a certain level of satellite imaging capacity to the government for a set monthly fee.

Faced with a new requirement in the EnhancedView contract to provide a letter of credit, GeoEye also has entered into a commitment with Cerberus to ensure a fully financed proposal, said Matthew O'Connell, GeoEye's president and chief executive.

Cerberus has been taking a significant interest in the government contracting world, purchasing DynCorp International, a Falls Church-based contractor, last month.

GeoEye's top competitor for EnhancedView is Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe, but O'Connell said he expects both companies to win contracts.

NGA spokeswoman Susan Meisner said the bids for the EnhancedView contract are now under review and an award is expected this summer.

GeoEye has been expanding rapidly -- from 106 employees in 2004 to nearly 540 today -- and Brender said the firm plans to add 50 to 60 more by the end of the year.

Additionally, the company plans to soon relocate to an as-yet-unannounced location near its existing office to accommodate its burgeoning size.

Yet, it wasn't so long ago that the company was struggling. According to GeoEye, its predecessor company Orbimage suffered a major setback in 2001 when its satellite, known as OrbView-4, was destroyed in a failed launch.

At the time, O'Connell worked at a New York City investment firm and was sent to restructure the firm. Under his supervision, Orbimage filed for bankruptcy in 2002.

The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2004 and won a role as the second vendor on NGA's NextView program.

The win was instrumental in getting the company back on track. GeoEye -- still known as Orbimage -- then bought out competitor Space Imaging and rebranded itself as GeoEye in early 2006.

Last year, GeoEye reported profit of $32.1 million ($1.55 per share), up from $26.6 million ($1.36 per share) in 2008.

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