SpaceX continues to mark new milestones as a private company, and that has spurred investors’ appetites for publicly traded space stocks, which have multiplied rapidly in recent years.
The proliferation of new space stocks has come as SPACs have taken over. Special purpose acquisition companies also known as “blank check companies” offer a way for private companies to go public without an IPO. Instead of selling stock, the private enterprise merges with a shell company that’s already public. SPACs have become popular after years of being shunned by the financial community.
Astra Space went public on July 1 via Holicity (HOL), Momentus is going public via Stable Road Capital (SRAC) and Vector Acquisition (VACQ) will take Rocket Lab public in a deal that values the space company at $4.1 billion. Redwire Space is merging with Genesis Park (GNPK) to go public. Satellite imaging companies Planet Labs and Satellogic also announced plans to go public via SPACs earlier this month.
Virgin Galactic’s (SPCE) sister company, Virgin Orbit, is considering a public stock listing via a blank-check merger with NextGen Acquisition II (NGCA), according to a CNBC report.
Meanwhile, in the legacy space industry, Boeing (BA) is building its own space taxis as well as the most powerful rocket ever. NASA also is working with other established space stocks like Lockheed Martin (LMT) along with upstart space companies to return astronauts to the moon and Mars.
Here’s a look at key publicly traded space stocks as of July 12:
Space Stocks ETFs
Procure Space ETF (UFO), a space-related exchange traded fund, launched back in April 2019. The fund includes holdings in space stocks like Boeing, Maxar (MAXR), Iridium Communications (IRDM), Intelsat (I) and Airbus (EADSY).
Cathie Wood’s Ark Investment Management launched the ARK Space Exploration ETF (ARKX) earlier this year. The space-focused ETF includes Boeing and Amazon (AMZN) but has exited its stake in Virgin Galactic.
On Oct. 28 2019, Virgin Galactic stock became the first publicly traded commercial space tourism company after a reverse merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings.
The company, which counts Boeing as an investor, successfully conducted its first fully crewed flight on July 11, sending founder Richard Branson into space. The flight not only means the company’s billionaire founder beat Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos to space, but it’s also crucial to the start of commercial service in 2022.
In addition to space tourism, Wall Street has noted Virgin Galactic’s potential in hypersonic intercontinental travel. In August 2020, Virgin Galactic signed a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce to collaborate in designing and developing engine propulsion technology for Mach 3 commercial aircraft. Virgin Galactic entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA in May to work on developing a sustainable high-Mach supersonic vehicle. The U.S. space agency has been working on high-Mach flight with its Supersonic X-59 test plane built by Lockheed.
One of the original space stocks, Boeing built the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that helped propel Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon in 1969. Now it’s building the Space Launch System rocket at the same facility as the Saturn V rocket in New Orleans.
The SLS is designed to be the most powerful rocket ever, taking astronauts and probes into deep space. But delays and costs overruns have plagued the NASA rocket. In January, NASA cut short a test of the core stage but was able to successfully complete the key hot fire test for the full duration in March.
Boeing also developed the Starliner capsule to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. But the capsule failed to reach the correct orbit during the test flight in December 2019 and a potentially “catastrophic” software issue was discovered. Boeing plans to redo the test flight on July 30.
Boeing also builds satellites and manages the ISS for NASA.
Lockheed also has a long history as one of the top space stocks. It built the solid propellant launch escape motor and the pitch control motor for the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
Now Lockheed is developing the deep-space Orion spacecraft for the SLS rocket to carry astronauts into deep space, including to lunar orbit.
Lockheed also makes satellites and space probes for NASA. More recently, Lockheed built components for the Mars Perseverance rover, which landed in February, and the Mars InSight lander, which landed in November 2018.
In addition, its joint venture with Boeing, United Launch Alliance, makes rockets that provide launch services.
In December, Lockheed announced it would buy engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne in an estimated $4.4 billion deal to boost its hypersonic weapons and space capabilities.
Aerojet’s engines were used in the Apollo 11 mission and were on the Space Shuttle. The company is also providing the engines for Boeing’s SLS rocket, ULA’s Vulcan rocket upper stage and Northrop’s OmegA rocket third stage.
Northrop Grumman (NOC) expanded its scope as one of the leading space stocks after it bought rocket maker Orbital ATK in 2018.
The company is working on the OmegA heavy-lift rocket and received Air Force funding last year to help end the U.S. reliance on Russian engines used in the Atlas 5 rocket by ULA.
Northrop makes satellites as well and is developing the James Webb Space Telescope for NASA. But the deep-space telescope is behind schedule with Covid-19 further dragging on timing. NASA expects the telescope to launch as early as November.
Northrop and Lockheed teamed up with Blue Origin on a lunar lander program for NASA. But they lost out to SpaceX.
Smaller space stocks are leaving their mark on the new space race too. Maxar will build the first components of NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station.
It also builds communication and Earth observations satellites as well as robotic systems for use in space.
In addition, Maxar provides access to satellite imagery and map data.
Investors’ hopes for SpaceX have made it one of the most valuable pre-IPO companies in the world, with the most recent fundraising round putting its worth at $74 billion. But Musk has no plans for it to go public…yet.
An IPO of the SpaceX Starlink satellite business reportedly could be in the works, perhaps in the next several years. SpaceX has launched more than 1,700 Starlink satellites for delivering space-based broadband connections, and beta testing is ongoing. In May, the company said more than 500,000 people have ordered or made a deposit for service.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket routinely carries payloads into space for NASA, the Pentagon as well as other governments and companies, while its Falcon Heavy has launched commercial and government payloads.
SpaceX is now sending astronauts to the space station on regular trips via the Crew Dragon capsule. SpaceX is also developing the Starship for deep-space missions and space tourism.
In April, NASA awarded SpaceX $2.9 billion to further develop the Starship to land astronauts on the moon. Blue Origin and Dynetics have filed protests. In May, SpaceX launched and landed an uncrewed prototype safely, after prior high-altitude flights ended in explosions.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is developing the New Glenn and New Shepard rockets as well as engines and the Blue Moon lunar lander. In addition to carrying payloads, Blue Origin also plans to take tourists into space and is developing its own constellation of satellites for internet service.
Blue Origin completed a test flight of its new crew capsule in January, a key step needed before it can launch its first crewed mission. Bezos announced on June 7 that he and his brother would be on the New Shepard’s first crewed flight on July 20.
A very rich astronaut will join the brothers. At an auction on June 12, the winning bid for a seat on the flight was $28 million. But the identity of the winner won’t be made public for a few more weeks.
The bidding amounts will help Blue Origin determine the market value for their future New Shepard seats, Laura Forczyk, the founder of space consulting firm Astralytical, told IBD.
Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter @IBD_GRich for space news and more.
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