The Final Frontier: The Frontrunners in Consumerizing Space Travel
Dominating recent headlines is the space race between billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk. And though this competition has generated its fair share of backlash amid the troubles here on Earth – further exacerbated by Branson’s and Bezos’ recent trips to the edge of space – it has nonetheless triggered the imaginations of millions of astrophiles worldwide.
As the billionaires push the envelope on what is possible and what may result in consumer space travel, let’s look at some publicly traded companies at the forefront of this new wave of exploring the final frontier.
With a mission “to make space more accessible,” Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (Tii:SPCE) became the first publicly traded space tourism company when its shares began trading in 2019. Two years later, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing its fourth rocket-powered spaceflight and first test flight with an entire crew in the cabin, which included company founder Sir Richard Branson. While the company has reported no revenue for its past two quarters and no profits ever, it plans to build up its fleet – at an estimated price tag of $30 million to $35 million a pop to ferry space voyagers beyond the atmosphere. Each passenger will fork over an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 for this privilege, potentially generating $1.5 million to $1.8 million in revenue for Virgin Galactic per six-passenger flight.
Colorado-based space technology company Maxar Technologies Inc. (Tii:MAXR) is in the space infrastructure business, manufacturing the technology and products that advance space exploration. These products include communication and Earth observation satellites, spacecraft for global commercial missions, and a broad range of civil, defense and intelligence missions for the U.S. government. Last year Maxar expanded its tech offerings when it acquired Vricon, Inc., a provider of satellite-derived 3D data for defense and intelligence markets, for approximately $140 million. Vricon’s software and products enhance 3D mapping, Earth intelligence data, military simulation and training and precision-guided munitions.
A newcomer to the public markets, Astra Space Inc. (Tii:ASTR) looks to become the launch provider of choice for small satellite operators. The company plans to do this by offering flexible, dedicated and cost-effective flights into Earth’s orbit. The developer of launch vehicles for communications satellites, which went public at the beginning of July, generating approximately $500 million in proceeds, has more than 50 launches in the pipeline via contracts with commercial and government clients. Among them is a contract with NASA to launch contract its TROPICS mission, consisting of a constellation of six small satellites that will observe tropical cyclones, aiming to improve the scientific community’s understanding of these dangerous weather events.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (Tii:AJRD), provides propulsion systems and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, and tactical systems areas. In April, the company’s engines powered the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket into orbit, carrying a classified U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) NROL-82 payload. Last year, NASA awarded a $1.79 billion contract modification for manufacturing additional 18 RS-25 engines to support future deep space exploration missions. As NASA looks to land the first woman and next man on the Moon with the Artemis program, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s will propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) to carry the crew and cargo to the lunar vicinity. The company will soon become a Lockheed Martin Corporation (Tii:LMT) subsidiary, which signed a definitive agreement to acquire the rocket engine manufacturer in a transaction valued at $4.4 billion.
Not to be outdone, aerospace and defense stalwart The Boeing Company (Tii:BA) is also entering the space tourism business. The company plans to use its Starliner next-generation space capsule to take astronauts and adventure-seekers with deep pockets to and from low-Earth orbit.
While journeying beyond Earth’s atmosphere is far from commonplace, with so much capital invested, consumer space travel seems to only be a matter of time.