As investors and entrepreneurs convene this month for this year’s third space investment summit, lawyers from a variety of firms say their space-related practices are taking off.
Firms with lawyers or a group dedicated to space or satellite work say increased private-equity investment is a major factor fueling the sector.
Other industry dynamics include the development of cellphones and other devices that can offer video and Internet connections, which require more satellite usage, and entrepreneurs pursuing space tourism ventures.
Private equity’s discovery of the satellite industry in the past four or five years had ramped up White & Case’s transactional work, said Maury Mechanick, a counsel to the firm’s Washington office.
“It’s been a darling of the private-equity industry,” Mechanick said.
About eight to 10 lawyers in the firm’s telecommunications, media and technology practice group spend most of their time on space-related business. Most are transactional lawyers, but some have regulatory expertise, he said.
Other firms with a foothold in the sector run the gamut from national firms such as Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker and New York’s Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy to regional firms Dickstein Shapiro and Leventhal Senter & Lerman of Washington; Posternak, Blankstein & Lund of Boston; and Townsend and Townsend and Crew of San Francisco.
Growth in orbit
Lawyers are following the upward trajectory of the satellite sector. World satellite industry revenues grew by 65% between 2001 and 2006 to $106.1 billion.
On the ground side of the business, operators of commercial teleport facilities and equipment � which send and receive satellite signals � are expected to collect about $15 billion in revenue this year, up by 17% from 2004, according to an October report by New York-based World Teleport Association.
Three investment summits sponsored by a variety of trade groups and nonprofits have been held around the country this year, including one in San Jose, Calif., this month.
Private-equity investors’ huge interest in the sector has also expanded Milbank Tweed’s deal work during the past few years, said New York partner Peter Nesgos.
Milbank recently represented financial institutions that funded Loral Space & Communications Inc.’s $3.25 billion acquisition of Telesat Canada, a deal that closed in late October.
Canadian satellite company Infosat Communications Inc. has also been a client for years, “through quite a bit of financing and internal organization,” Nesgos said.
Once companies have financing in place or finish a mergers and acquisitions deal, Milbank assists with ongoing licensing and regulatory work, contract negotiation and insurance work. Bringing in other legal disciplines has boosted the firm’s activity in the sector, Nesgos said.
Six Milbank lawyers are dedicated to its space practice, with 20 other corporate, finance and litigation lawyers spending some time on work for the industry.
“Where we’ve seen the growth is providing a broader range of legal services to our client base,” Nesgos said. “That’s been our success.”
Angling for more
Intellectual property firm Townsend is angling for more space-related business by providing legal advice and funding to new space trade group The Eighth Continent Project. Golden, Colo.-based Eighth Continent, which helps space-related startups find financing and business partners, began in August, and Townsend announced its involvement last month.
Townsend’s current clients include satellite companies and inventors of products useful in space commerce, and it hopes to connect them with other companies for joint business opportunities through Eighth Continent, said Denver associate Gene Branch.
“Townsend stands ready to assist all members of the Eighth Continent Project to protect intellectual property created for this rapidly expanding market,” Branch said.
Posternak’s Rosanna Sattler, who is also the chairwoman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Space Enterprise Council, said the nascent space tourism industry is boosting the firm’s space-related business.
Posternak’s clients include Los Angeles- and Washington-based Orbital Outfitters Inc., a year-old company that makes civilian space suits.
Posternak’s space law team also includes a corporate lawyer and an international trade lawyer who specializes in helping space industry companies navigate international regulatory issues.
“The hope is the demand for tourism will result in a number of different kinds of rockets that will be able to launch on demand,” Sattler said.