Liberty Satellite Reels In Astrolink

Liberty Satellite and Technology Inc. is again beefing up its satellite broadband portfolio, this time announcing it will snap up the remaining assets of Astrolink International LLC.

The agreement — signed with fellow Astrolink owners Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. and Telespazio S.p.A. — would give Liberty Satellite 100 percent ownership of the Bethesda, Md.-based broadband communications service, founded in 1999.

Liberty Satellite already has a 31.5 percent stake in Astrolink, which has plans to launch nine high-powered Ka-band satellites offering high-speed satellite connections worldwide. Under the deal, expected to close in late October, Liberty will acquire substantially all of Astrolink's assets, subject to regulatory approval — which will also hinge on Liberty Satellite's ability to secure adequate funding or firm capacity commitments from customers.

In return, Astrolink has contracted with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to build two satellites.

If the deal goes through, Liberty Satellite will pay about $43 million in cash and issue approximately $3 million in Series A common stock for the Astrolink assets, plus provide additional funding for the start-up. Parent Liberty Media Corp. will then make a maximum $55 million capital contribution to Liberty Satellite in exchange for shares of Liberty Satellite's Series B common stock.

Liberty Satellite is planning to redirect the Astrolink service, marketing the satellite service to provide enterprise customers with virtual private network and other advanced services. It will also seek contracts with government agencies.

Just last month, Liberty Satellite also bumped up its investment in WildBlue Communications, a startup hoping to launch a residential and small business Ka-band satellite broadband service in 2004.