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With Viasat-3 Status Still in Limbo, CEO Mark Dankberg Outlines Possible Responses to Total Loss Scenario

By Jeffrey Hill | August 10, 2023

      Mark Dankberg, Viasat CEO. Photo: Viasat

      On what should have been a cheerful Q1 2024 financial earnings call to promote strong year-over-year revenue growth, Viasat Chairman and CEO Mark Dankberg spent most of his time explaining to investors why the company still can’t explain the anomaly it experienced with the reflector on its recently launched Viasat-3 satellite and why he’s not ready to declare the satellite a total loss. He did, however, hint at possible contingency plans if Viasat’s long-awaited flagship satellite system cannot operate as planned.

      “We do not currently anticipate that fiscal year 2024 financial results will be significantly affected by Viasat-3’s Flight 1 performance,” Dankberg said on the earnings call late Wednesday afternoon. “Our full-year 2025 will be affected, as well as the timing of the corrective actions on Flight 2. But given current information, we believe we will continue to grow in fiscal year ’25 as well, but not to the same extent we would have without the anomaly.”

      SpaceX launched Viasat-3 Flight 1 on a Falcon Heavy mission on April 30. Last month, Viasat reported that an unexpected event happened when the reflector was deployed that could “materially impact” its performance during its planned life span, or potentially result in the loss of the satellite. Viasat has not publicly named the reflector manufacturer, though its description of the technology matches that provided by its tech partner Northrop Grumman.

      On the earnings call, Dankberg described the three-step plan it is taking to work with the reflector manufacturer in determining the cause of the anomaly. “First, we will collect additional data and incorporate that into the deployment fault analysis,” said Dankberg. “Second, we assess the performance of the satellite with the antenna as it is. Initial end-to-end measurements with the effective antenna indicates the rest of the satellite including the innovative payload and ground infrastructure built by ViaSat are operating as expected or better. Third is to assess the potential of improving the antenna deployment on Flight 1. The outcome of this will depend on the results of the first 2 work streams. While we’re making steady progress, we expect that analyses that are underway to provide more definitive insight and we’ll provide updates when we have more information, which we currently estimate will be when we report earnings next quarter.”

      Viasat did take out an insurance policy on Viasat-3. When asked if Viasat was planning to file a $420 million claim to cover a total satellite loss scenario, CFO Shawn Duffy hinted at the operator’s speed in collecting on past claims. “I mean, clearly, we’re still  really, really early in the process. We had a lot of success in- in the timing of our prior collections, which happened within a 12-month time frame But I think that it’s hard to speculate around the timing of a potential claim on Viasat-3.”

      Dankberg also revealed that he is not ruling out any contingency options, including the option to use an upcoming Viasat-4 satellite to serve as a gap-filler in a fleet re-shuffle. “On ViaSat-4, there are some significant improvements there that we could use as the foundation for a replacement satellite. But again, what we do there will depend on what we measure and analyze in the near-term.”

      The timing of the Viasat-3 anomaly itself is unfortunate, as the company seeks to scale up to meet the demand it has created through growth and its recent acquisition of mobile satellite operator Inmarsat. Viasat’s Q1 2024 consolidated revenue grew 36% to $780 million year-over-year and adjusted EBITDA grew 87% to $183 million, with good performance across all of its business segments. Viasat’s standalone revenues grew 12% and adjusted EBITDA grew 13% year-over-year. The operator ended the quarter with over $2.1 billion of cash and short-term investments.

      “After the merger with Inmarsat we’re starting with a stronger-than-anticipated balance sheet and even stronger than what we expected when we closed the deal back in January,” said Dankberg. “We’re making good progress on the integration and are on track to achieve our overall synergy goals and aiming to improve on those. Inmarsat has achieved 11% growth year-on-year growth in its Xpress service levels. We’re excited about having greater diversity and scale market outlets in global mobile broadband.”

      Dankberg added that former Inmarsat CEOs Andrew Sukawaty and Rajeev Suri are now officially seated on Viasat’s Board of Directors.

      Viasat’s total commercial IFC and service aircraft revenue grew 18% year-on-year on a combined basis to serve 3,230 aircraft. Dankberg said passenger usage also increased driving of revenue per aircraft. “And our quarter end, contracted backlog in commercial IFC stands at approximately 1,600 aircraft. Momentum has continued at a pace to-date in Q2, including additional new airlines and additional aircraft for existing customers,” he said.

      Dankberg did, however, warn that Viasat-3’s loss could impact the operator’s ability to handle services beyond its current backlog if it does not act quickly. “We can handle our current backlog, at least for some period of time. Not all of it depends on this particular satellite. But the main thing we’ve been doing to handle our backlog so far is transferring business, transferring bandwidth from the fixed applications to be to the mobility business,” said Dankberg.

      Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Inmarsat in reference to the merger.