SpaceX continues to mark new milestones as a private company. That has spurred investors' appetite for publicly traded space stocks, which have multiplied rapidly in recent years.
Russia-Ukraine War Tightens Space Launch Market
Meanwhile, the Russia-Ukraine war has highlighted the role of satellite imagery as an intelligence tool in warfare. As the war drags on, it's also having wider impacts in the space investing realm.
"With Russia's Soyuz rockets no longer allowed to fly European missions, the launch market will grow increasingly tight through mid-decade," Deutsche Bank analyst Edison Yu wrote in a May 17 note. He expects that to benefit some new space companies, like Rocket Lab.
Amid the war, Russia's central space agency refused to launch the U.K.'s OneWeb satellites aboard its Soyuz rocket. OneWeb is Europe's answer to SpaceX's Starlink.
New And Legacy Space Companies
The proliferation of new space stocks has come via SPACs or special purpose acquisition companies.
Astra Space (ASTR),Momentus (MNTS) and Rocket Lab (RKLB) came public via SPACs. So did Redwire Space (RDW), satellite imaging company Planet Labs (PL) and Virgin Galactic (SPCE) sister company Virgin Orbit (VORB).
Meanwhile, in the legacy space industry, Boeing (BA) is building its own space taxis and the most powerful rocket ever. NASA is working with both established space stocks like Lockheed Martin (LMT) and upstart space companies to return astronauts to the moon and Mars.
Here's a look at key private space companies and publicly traded space stocks:
Elon Musk's SpaceX
Investors' hopes for SpaceX have made it one of the most valuable pre-IPO companies. An insider share sale last October put the company's worth at $100 billion. But Tesla (TSLA) CEO Musk has no plans for it to go public — yet.
However, an IPO of the SpaceX Starlink satellite business could be in the works.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket routinely carries payloads into space for NASA and the Pentagon. SpaceX sends astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) via the Crew Dragon capsule. It is also developing the Starship for deep-space missions and space tourism.
On July 21, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is set for its 32nd launch of 2022 — surpassing the annual record it set last year. Thursday's mission will deliver more Starlink broadband satellites to space. SpaceX has been launching more often than competitor United Launch Alliance and national space agencies. It has delivered more than 2,750 Starlink satellites to date.
Starlink is available in 32 countries, with an estimated 250,000 subscribers.
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos, is developing the New Glenn and New Shepard rockets as well as the Blue Moon lunar lander. Blue Origin also plans to take tourists into space and is developing its own constellation of satellites for internet service.
Bezos and his brother flew on New Shepard's first crewed flight last July. Star Trek actor William Shatner also flew on a Blue Origin mission, becoming at age 90 the oldest person in space.
On March 31, Blue Origin launched its latest space tourist flight from West Texas. The mission reportedly marked Blue Origin's fourth crewed flight and the second to carry a full six-person crew.
Bezos is not sure how many flights will happen in 2022 but has said that "demand is very, very high."
On Oct. 28, 2019, Virgin Galactic stock became the first commercial space tourism company to come public via a SPAC.
The company, which counts Boeing as an investor, conducted its first fully crewed flightlast July, sending billionaire founder Richard Branson into space. Branson beat Amazon founder and Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos to space.
Last October, Virgin Galactic delayed the start of commercial flights until the fourth quarter of 2022.
In addition to space tourism, Virgin Galactic is working to develop hypersonic intercontinental travel.
A Space Stock Pioneer: Boeing
One of the original space stocks, Boeing helped to build the rocket that took Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon in 1969. Now it's building the Space Launch System rocketin 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.
Boeing also developed the Starliner capsule to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. Boeing's Starliner successfully launched into orbit May 19 on its way to docking with the space station, NASA said. It marks a big step forward, after two previous failed attempts.
The United Launch Alliance, or ULA — a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin — provides space launch vehicles to NASA, Amazon and others.
Lockheed also has a long history as one of the top space stocks. It builtthe 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 Boeing's SLS rocket.
Lockheed also makes satellites and space probes for NASA. It built components for the Mars Perseverance rover, which landed last February, and the Mars InSight, which landed in November 2018.
In addition, ULA, its joint venture with Boeing, makes rockets for launch services.
In February, Lockheed abandoned its attempt to buy engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne. The deal aimed to boost Lockheed's hypersonic weapons and space capabilities.
Aerojet Rocketdyne (AJRD) engines were used in the Apollo 11 mission. The company provides the engines for NASA and Boeing's SLS rocket, ULA's Vulcan rocket upper stage and Northrop's OmegA rocket third stage.
Amid the Ukraine war, Russia recently refused to launch 36 satellites for the U.K.'s OneWeb, a satellite company. Some analysts suggest that has put Russia's role in the global launch market under a cloud, with launch providers such as Aerojet Rocketdyne possibly standing to benefit.
Russia claimed to have used hypersonic missiles in Ukraine. That has highlighted the need to advance hypersonic weapons — an area where Aerojet Rocketdyne has some expertise.
Northrop Grumman (NOC) became one of the leading space stocks after buying rocket maker Orbital ATK in 2018.
The company is working on the OmegA heavy-lift rocket and also makes satellites.
It developed the James Webb Space Telescope for NASA. In January, the James Webb telescope reached its final destination more than a million miles away from the Earth.
Northrop and Lockheed teamed up with Bezos' Blue Origin on a lunar lander program for NASA. But they lost out to Musk's SpaceX.
New Space Stocks: Maxar, Rocket Lab
Smaller and new space stocks are leaving their mark on the new space race too. Maxar Technologies (MAXR) will build the first components of NASA's Lunar Gateway space station. On May 25, satellite-imagery companies Maxar, Planet Labs and BlackSky Technology (BKSY) won contracts worth billions of dollars over the next decade.
With the Russian Soyuz taken out of service, a tighter launch market bodes well for Rocket Lab's Neutron rocket, Deutsche Bank's Yu says.
Meanwhile, Astra's transition to a next-gen rocket will be critical, Yu says. He says "Astra's ultimate goal is to launch very frequently (i.e., weekly, then daily), leveraging a small low-cost rocket that can be easily manufactured and operated by minimal staff."
As for Momentus, Yu sees the company leveraging a growing market for in-orbit transportation, and harnessing the power of water-based propulsion.
He rates RKLB stock, ASTR and MNTS all at buy, singling out Rocket Lab as "one of the few publicly listed New Space companies that could actually be profitable in a few years."
Space Stocks ETFs
Investing in an exchange traded fund, or ETF, can be a less risky way to invest in space stocks, many of which are young and speculative companies. The options include Procure Space ETF (UFO) and ARK Space Exploration ETF (ARKX).
The two funds may invest in space stocks such as Boeing, Airbus (EADSY) and Amazon (AMZN). They may also include less well-known names, such as Maxar (MAXR), Iridium Communications (IRDM) and Intelsat (I).
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