SpaceX made history over the weekend when it launched two U.S. astronauts into space, the first crewed space launch from U.S. soil in nearly a decade. It was a remarkable accomplishment, and one that should usher in a new era of space cooperation between private companies and NASA.
It also was largely a nonevent for investors, as SpaceX is a private company and founder Elon Musk has expressed an interest in keeping it that way. SpaceX has big dreams, including colonizing Mars, and those sorts of ambitions, and research expenses, don’t usually sync well with Wall Street’s quarter-to-quarter tracking.
But even if SpaceX isn’t publicly traded, there are some options for investors who want to buy into the new space race. Here’s a look at some of the options available to those who are interested.
Space pure plays
There aren’t a lot of large public companies focused solely on space; I’ll get into why that is, and what it might suggest for investors later on. But there are a few options. Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE), Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, went public last year and has been the primary publicly traded beneficiary of SpaceX’s recent success.
Virgin Galactic has yet to launch a human into space, and the company is very much in its development phase. Virgin Galactic generated just $238,000 in revenue in the first quarter, but it can boast a reservation list of more than 1,000 people who have signed up to eventually pay $250,000 to briefly go into space.
The company hopes to begin service this year and believes that with repetition it can bring down the cost of its launches and become profitable. It had better, because even if the entire reservation list is converted into full-paying customers, the money raised wouldn’t go much further than covering the $200 million Virgin Galactic burned through in 2019.
Another option is Maxar Technologies (NYSE:MAXR), which is focused on satellites, digital imagery, and analytics tools. The company is a rollup of a number of small satellite providers perhaps best known as the source of many of the satellite images used by Alphabet‘s Google Maps product, but it gets most of its revenue from government and commercial customers.
Finally, Aerojet Rocketdyne (NYSE:AJRD) is focused on providing the rocket engines needed to get astronauts and satellites into orbit and beyond.
All of the space pure plays tend to be smaller, niche companies. There is a reason for that. Space by its nature is risky, and expensive. SpaceX has experienced a number of high-profile mishaps on its way to getting an astronaut into orbit. Testing and failure are parts of the development process, and that can be hard for smaller companies to manage and finance.
A significant portion of the revenue related to space is soaked up by larger, more diversified defense contractors. Most defense titans have space units, with Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) in a joint venture called United Launch…