Sunday, April 6, 2014
A New Space Race is Starting! Which Company is going To Win?
After a strong week of gains for markets stock fell heavily on Friday to make sure that the Nasdaq closed down for the week and that the Dow and S&P 500 erase most of the gains they made. Yet Friday’s 160 point loss should have been expected, in fact I was prepping for it since Wednesday, and I am sure that the selloff provides nothing but opportunity. With that said Corporate earnings will be in focus this week and unfortunately they are expected to be poor.
Off course I am not willing to analyze the already over analyzed market, what I am going to do is shed some light on a new industry that is behind the future of space travel, the rocket industry.
Ok, that makes it sound like corporations are building ICBM’s (to confirm the fears of conspiracy theorists) but in the last few years as Congress begins to cut down ,at least a little, on its spending the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA) has been receiving cuts in funding. Basically this means no body will be going to the moon any time soon and NASA will not be building rockets to send various satellites into space.
For all those young kids who want to become astronauts do not despair, instead of paying billions to build and launch rockets and satellites into space NASA has instead opted to spend only hundreds of millions on hiring private companies to execute the launches themselves. This creates a whole new industry that has yet to be completely realized.
With that said, however, I do think that this industry will be receiving a lot more scrutiny by Wall Street in the next few months. Especially after an article published by the Wall Street Journal titled SpaceX to Compete With Boeing-Lockheed Venture or Satellite Launch. This article written by Doug Cameron raises new hopes and new life for the Space industry.
I say that because the Pentagon has recently announced its intention to start accepting bids from U.S companies to develop a cheaper American made rocket to replace the, ironically, Russian made rocket currently employed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) that has until now held a virtual monopoly of the space launch industry.
The ULA is a 50-50 partnership between Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, the company until recently controlled the majority of the contracts from NASA, the Department of Defense and the Air force. The companies Delta and Atlas rockets have been the mainstays of the space industry for the last 50 years, there relatively cheap launches and disposability led them to replace the space shuttle and the rockets can probably be described as the AK-47’s of rockets, there is just one problem, they are built around Russian made engines.
Yes you heard me, in essence the Russians make our rockets, it’s disgraceful I know. With the recent tension with Russia over Ukraine apparently the Pentagon feels we need our own rocket, it’s about time too!
In a strange way by taking over the small Ukrainian Peninsula that until a few months ago few heard of or gave a damn about, otherwise known as Crimea, Russian President/Tsar Vladimir Putin has helped launch a new Space Race.
But this Space Race will not be a repeat of the Cold War, this time the competition to go to space will not be between the U.S and the Soviet Union competing over who gets there respected place in history. Instead the competition will be between American corporation competing for something considerably more valuable…..government contracts, the very things that can make or break companies.
It’s time to meet the players in this new race to the heavens-
The company that arguably receives the greatest opportunity in the Pentagon’s call for a new rocket is unfortunately a private one. Space Explorations Technologies better known as SpaceX has decided that it wants to be the company to lead the U.S into space.
SpaceX is another one of entrepreneur Elon Musk’s futuristic like companies focused on building the future. And although still privately held SpaceX already had several successful launches of its own and currently hold almost $5 billion in government contracts. Besides already having credibility launching small and medium payloads into space SpaceX claims to bring to the table a cheaper launch vehicle that according to Elon Musk can send large payloads into space for a third of the cost ULA is doing it for, just $100 million compared to $300-330 million.
Clearly the United Launch Alliance is facing a problem, the joint venture between two of the biggest government contractors, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing is under siege by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. SpaceX has already sent an army of lobbyists to Washington hoping to open up 34 ULA launch contracts to bidding (although this is unlikely to happen since the government officials have stated that opening these contracts to open bidding would result in higher expenditures and cost overruns) .
Even so, ULA faces a severe problem, its Russian made RD-180 engines that are so critical to power there Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) that power the Lockheed made Atlas V and the Boeing mad Delta IV, are in short supply and there are few spares. Officials from both companies have tried to reassure the Pentagon that there are enough engines left for 2 ½ years, but a government report is due at the end of the month to determine if this is true.
As for the Space race SpaceX has been trying to open all 14 launches planned for the next two years to bidding. Unfortunately for SpaceX this number this number might be dropped to 7-8 launches because of current satellites staying in operation longer. In any case the lobbying war between SpaceX and ULA will probably continue for the foreseeable future with the space race heating up over that time period.
As for investors hoping to come along for the ride, it is highly unfortunate that SpaceX is not yet public although rumors of a potential IPO have been swirling around for years. But shares of both Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, the owners of ULA are publically traded. Also worth looking at if you are interested in investing in the space race are shares of Orbital Sciences (ORB).
Orbital Sciences is the only pure play space company out there, and its Cygnus space capsule which was first shot into orbit in June 2013 is unmanned and has the ability to carry 20,000 kilograms of supplies. So far Orbital Sciences appears to be in the perfect position to become the leader in supplying the International Space Station. The down side to the stock is that the company does not have a manned capsule under development which is the one thing that will woo investors and send the stock through the roof. With that said however Orbital Sciences is a good stock to invest in if you are willing to invest into the new Space Race.
Another company that might be a player in the new race to space is Alliant (ATK) this company is developing its Liberty Space Capsule due to launch in 2014. The company has had a history with NASA, it developed the Rocket boosters for the Space Shuttles. Unfortunately the company does not hold contract to develop the Liberty Capsule yet which means if the contract is not awarded to Alliant the stock might be a victim to a strong sell-off.
In any case whether you are investing in Lockheed, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, Alliant or anticipating the IPO of SpaceX the truth is a new space race is starting and the victor will not only become rich but control the future of the space industry.
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