International Institute of Space Law

Article

So You Want to Buy a Space Company?

Authors Brendan Cohen
Author's information

357934 Brendan Cohen
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, United States, bcohen@cgsh.com.
  • Abstract

      In 2017, more than $3.9 billion of private capital was invested in commercial space companies. This represents, in a single year, more than half of the total amount of private investment during the preceding five years. The private space sector has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of investor participants. The industry continues to expand, and analysts predict that it will grow to a multi-trillion dollar industry in the next two decades. The industry is also witnessing rapidly falling launch prices – and as launch prices drop, the barrier to enter space also decreases. In addition to facilitating the expansion of existing space-based businesses, such as telecommunications and Earth observation, greater access to outer space opens the door for new entrants into fields such as space manufacturing, mining and tourism.
      Almost half of all investment in space companies since the year 2000, the vast majority of which was made within the last six years, has been from venture capital (“VC”) firms. VC investors seek eventually to monetize their investment by exiting through a sale of the company to a third party (usually an existing space industry player, but sometimes to another financial buyer) or through an initial public offering. Acquisitions by industry competitors are particularly common in the satellite sector, where established incumbents often look for outside innovation (for example, Terra Bella’s acquisition by Planet or DigitalGlobe’s acquisition by MDA). Furthermore, space activities are very costly, but benefit from economies of scale – evidenced by joint ventures between Lockheed and Boeing (United Launch Alliance) and between Airbus and Safran.
      In light of the increasing frequency of mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”) deal making in the space industry, this paper will examine publicly disclosed acquisition agreements governing certain prior deals in the industry in order to draw conclusions about the unique risks faced by commercial space acquirers and how they have sought to mitigate such risks. From diligence considerations to key terms of the acquisition agreements (such as the representations and warranties), this paper will provide practical insight into the most important considerations for private deals in this growing and rapidly changing industry.

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