Orbital Sciences maintains that what goes up doesn't have to come down -- at least not for a long time. The company makes low-Earth-orbit satellites and other spacecraft for communications, science and technology research, and national security purposes. Orbital Sciences also manufactures satellite launch vehicles, as well as interceptors (to stop missile attacks) and target launch vehicles that test missile defense systems. Its advanced space programs division develops and supports human space flight, space exploration, and launch systems and satellites primarily used for national security programs. The US government and its contractors account for about 71% of the company's sales.
Through the satellite and space systems segment, 38% of revenue, Orbital Sciences is a major provider of small and medium-class satellites. The some 140 satellites produced by the company since its founding in 1982 have completed almost a thousand years of operations in orbit. The segment added advanced medium-class defense and scientific satellites with the 2010 acquisition of General Dynamics' satellite business. The segment's satellites are divided into several groups: communications (which includes the GEOStar), science and environmental, imaging and defense, hosted payloads, and grounds systems and customer support.
The launch vehicles segment represents 33% of revenue. The segment's space launch vehicles, which put satellites that weigh up to 4,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit, include the Pegasus, Taurus, and Minotaur. The medium-capacity Antares -- which is intended to later serve the International Space Station (ISS) -- is being developed to launch spacecraft that weigh 12,000 pounds. Providing long-, medium-, and short-range rockets, the target launch vehicles group completed more than a dozen successful target missions in 2011.
Accounting for 29% of revenue, the advanced space programs segment developed the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload sensor that was launched as a secondary payload on Orbital's SES-2 communications satellite for the US Air Force. This segment is also readying the Cygnus spacecraft, which will be launched by the Antares rocket, for transporting cargo to the ISS.
Compared with 2010, 2011 revenues rose 4%, supported by healthy performances by all three of the company's segments. Satellites and space systems increased 11% thanks mainly to demand for communications satellites (which itself rose 12%) and space technical services (recording a year-over-year uptick of 39%). Launch vehicles were shot up 11% by target launch vehicle and space launch vehicle contracts. Target launch vehicles' revenue went up 63% while space launch vehicles inched up 8% with demand for work on the Antares.
Advanced space programs coasted up just 2% with a push from national security satellite contracts (rising 36%), though the segment struggled with the ending of the Orion contract. Eliminations of intersegment revenues rose from $60.6 million in 2010 to $125.1 million in 2011 due mainly to costs of producing the Antares launch vehicle for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Net income fell from $58.5 million in 2008 to $36.6 million in 2009, but then it began rising. It went up to about $47.5 million in 2010 and then up to about $67.4 million in 2011.
To fill a hole left by the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) has contracted with Orbital to undertake eight missions for the transport of cargo to the ISS. Competitor Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) already demonstrated its ability to transport cargo to the ISS in May 2012 when it successfully launched a capsule that rendezvoused with the ISS and then splashed down intact in the Pacific. To fulfill its own contract with NASA, Orbital plans to use the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft that it is creating through NASA's COTS program, a "pay for performance" partnership between private industry and the government -- that is, NASA makes payments only when performance-based milestones are met.
Orbital first began working through COTS to develop a transport system for the ISS in 2008 and plans to test-fire the Antares rocket in 2012. The company has targeted a time frame of 2012 to 2016 for fulfilling the cargo transport missions. The CRS contract -- the company's largest in 2011 -- represented about 18% of Optimal's revenue in 2011 and it is expected to continue to be an important component of the company's bottomline. As of December 31, 2011 Optimal had received $628 million for the CRS contract.
In the military sector, Orbital operates as a subcontractor for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, an operation that will continue until about the late 2010s. – less