Northrop Goes Deep Into Space With Orbital Buy

The $7.8 billion deal gives the defense contractor access to the small satellite market and boosts its presence in the missile business.
Matthew HellerSeptember 18, 2017

Northrop Grumman said Monday it had agreed to acquire Orbital ATK for about $7.8 billion in a move that pushes the maker of the B-2 bomber deeper into space.

In addition to making rocket motors that power missiles, Orbital sells small satellites and has been developing technology to service satellites in space, allowing them to operate longer.

Northrop makes large satellites but as the Washington Post reports, the Pentagon, and others, “are seeking to put up constellations of small satellites that could beam Internet to remote areas and provide Earth observation capabilities.”

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Northrop will pay $134.50 per share in cash for Orbital’s stock, a 22.2% premium over Friday’s closing price, and assume $1.4 billion in debt. It is the fourth significant deal in the aerospace sector this year, coming just weeks after United Technologies agreed to acquire Rockwell Collins for $30 billion.

“The acquisition of Orbital ATK is an exciting strategic step as we continue to invest for profitable growth,” Northrop CEO Wes Bush said in a news release. “Through our combination, customers will benefit from expanded capabilities, accelerated innovation and greater competition in critical global security domains.”

Northrop has long been a leading defense contractor and won a contract in 2015 to build the next generation of stealth bombers known as the B-21. The combination with Orbital will also boost its presence in the missile business.

“Northrop is doing fine, but it wasn’t clear what their strategy was for the future,” Loren Thompson, aerospace analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank, told the Los Angeles Times. “What this suggests is they’re making a bigger commitment to space.”

Along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Orbital has a contract to supply the International Space Station with cargo, launching its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft from Virginia’s eastern shore. Its Pegasus rocket is capable of deploying small satellites, weighing up to 1,000 pounds, to low Earth orbit.

“We’re going from these big bus-sized satellites to smaller distributed systems, so that’s what Orbital ATK is bringing to the party,” Byron Callan, director at Capital Alpha Partners investment bank, told the Post.