Alliant Techsystems Inc. has agreed to purchase the space and radar business of Canada's MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. for $1.32 billion and plans to establish the headquarters for its new combined space business in Maryland.
The acquisition of MDA Information Systems and Geospatial Services is the biggest to date for Alliant, which is better known by its NYSE ticker symbol, ATK.
The new portfolio will include space-based radar systems, space robotics, satellite systems and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
ATK, which has its headquarters in Edina, Minn., would become the fifth-largest space systems company in North America and nearly double its international revenue, said Daniel J. Murphy, ATK's chairman and chief executive officer, in an interview yesterday.
"This is a very fast-growing business," Murphy said. "Half of ATK's leadership groups will be Maryland-based."
ATK is the largest manufacturer of solid-fuel rocket motors and already has more than 2,000 employees in Maryland, including 600 at a rocket motor manufacturing plant in Elkton.
Last year, the company moved its Mission Systems Group headquarters to Canton. Not long after, it announced the purchase of Swales Aerospace, a Beltsville firm that specializes in satellite systems for NASA, the Department of Defense and commercial customers.
The MDA divisions being acquired have combined revenue of about $500 million and employ 1,900, including 145 in Rockville. Most of that work force is made up of engineers. ATK Space Systems will encompass ATK operations in Beltsville and MDA's office in Rockville.
A call seeking comment from MDA was not returned late yesterday.
In a statement, MDA President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel E. Friedmann said, "The operations we divest will have greater growth potential under a complementary U.S. owner who recognizes its inherent value."
Analyst Adam Fleck of Morningstar Inc. said ATK is following through on its promise to delve deeper into space. With NASA preparing to send humans back to the moon and possibly Mars, space is a growing market. If it has MDA and Swales, ATK has the ability to build complete satellite systems, as opposed to pieces, he said.
"It doesn't overlap technologies, which is good," said Fleck, who does not own shares in ATK.
ATK has worked with MDA on developing the landing gear for the Mars Exploration Rover and the RADARSAT-2 satellite, which was launched last month to conduct environmental monitoring and disaster management.
"They do everything right and they do it right the first time," Murphy said of MDA. "In the satellite business, that's important because you don't get a second crack at it."
ATK expects the purchase to contribute to earnings per share in fiscal 2009 and thereafter. The company said it has financing in place and hopes to close the transaction in its first fiscal quarter of 2009, which begins April 1.
To head up the new division, ATK named as president Carl Marchetto, formerly executive vice president and general manager of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Space Systems Group.
Murphy said Marchetto is scouting a location south of Baltimore for the new Space Systems' headquarters.
"There is a very strong concentration of engineering talent in the Baltimore-Washington axis," Murphy said. "I have been very pleased with the talent we've been able to recruit out of Maryland."
Murphy said it was too early to tell how many jobs would be added in Maryland once the new division is established. However, he said the Mission Systems Group hired 1,000 over the last year nationally, including nearly 100 in Canton.
The purchase was announced yesterday after the stock market closed. ATK stock closed down $1.27 yesterday at $108.92 per share.