EOSAT plans to expand despite loss of satellite Goal is to double revenues, work force

October 12, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Earth Observation Satellite Corp. has plans for significant growth over the next two years despite the loss last week of a $220 million Earth imaging satellite that it was counting on as a cornerstone of its future business.

"We wish we had the damn thing back," said Arturo Silvestrini, president and chief executive of the Lanham-based company, commonly called EOSAT. "But this is not going to kill us."

With or without the Landsat 6 satellite, which was lost after its launch last Tuesday, Mr. Silvestrini said EOSAT has expansion plans designed to double its revenues and number of employees over the next two years.

EOSAT -- a joint venture of Martin Marietta Corp., which built and launched the lost satellite, and Hughes Aircraft Co. -- was formed in 1985 as part of a Reagan administration move to turn government services over to private industry.

The company sells Landsat photos to the U.S. and foreign governments and private industry, which use the data for a variety of purposes, including petroleum and mineral exploration, urban and transportation planning, map making, flood control and crop estimates.

It posted revenues of about $30 million last year and employs about 120 workers, all but a few of them at its Prince George's County headquarters.

The company had been depending on the Landsat 6 to upgrade both the quality and scope of images it offers.

Mr. Silvestrini said that even before last week's loss, EOSAT had been working on several fronts to lessen its dependence on the government-owned Landsat series of satellites, including the aging Landsat 4 and 5, which are still in orbit but, because of communication problems, are operating well below capacity.

The new efforts include:

* Working with the federal government to obtain data from radar satellites. Unlike Landsat, these satellites can peer through the dark of night and cloudy skies to provide images.

* Working on an agreement with Russia to market worldwide data from its observation satellites.

Mr. Silvestrini said EOSAT is close to reaching similar agreements with other nations, which he would not identify. "We have a handshake agreement," he said, "but it won't be final until the end of October."

* Finalizing agreements with other private satellite companies, both domestic and international, to distribute the data from their satellites.

* Building portable ground stations that can be moved into locations around the world. In addition to being able to collect data at more sites, the equipment could be used for emergencies, such as the Midwest floods, to provide faster readings on changing water patterns.

If everything goes as planned, Mr. Silvestrini said EOSAT could post revenues of $60 million a year by 1995 and add 100 jobs at its Lanham headquarters.

He said the goal is for EOSAT to depend on Landsat for no more than50 percent of the data it markets.

The Landsat satellites are owned by the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and EOSAT's days as an exclusive marketer of the data were already numbered. When Landsat 7 is launched sometime near the end of the decade, its data will be available to any company that pays the production and distribution costs.

Although the business may become competitive at that time, EOSAT's ace in the hole could be its library of more than 3 million photo images collected over the years. In many cases, Mr. Silvestrini explained, the value of photo images of the Earth is to compare current images with those from the past.

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