(Veteran tech columnist Jon Markman publishes Strategic Advantage, a guide to investing in the great digital transformation of business and society. Click here for a two-week trial.)
During the past two weeks SpaceX, a commercial aerospace company, has successfully launched, landed and tested three separate rockets. Two of these vehicles put new satellites into orbit.
Welcome to the new world of commercial, industrialized space. Space has become existential on a number of vectors, according to an analyst team at Morgan Stanley.
That means a new world of opportunity for companies like Maxar Technologies ( (MAXR) - Get Maxar Technologies, Inc. Report). I first wrote about the company back on July 20 -- Tiny Imagery Firm Hitches a Ride With SpaceX -- and it's up 110% since. But there is much more to come, and here's why.
The Morgan Stanley comments came Dec. 9 after the investment firm concluded its third annual Space Summit conference. The gathering consisted of representatives from the venture capital community, government agencies and the world of corporate finance. The general theme among speakers was that space exploration has become a key component for monitoring climate change, national security and everything in between.
These themes are not necessarily new. During the Reagan administration in the 1980s space became a top priority for national defense. President Reagan often talked about developing laser space weapons that could detect and destroy incoming ballistic missiles, an effort officially called the “strategic defense initiative” but commonly dubbed “star wars.”
Thirty years later the national defense angle has developed away from space weapons to surveillance. Satellites today are imbued with better tracking capabilities and ultra-high definition cameras for recognizance. There is no need to destroy missiles with fancy space lasers when out of this world cameras can detect readiness protocols before launch.
Those bleeding edge optics, coupled with next generation sensors also give environmental scientists new hope to combat the negative effects of climate change.
On Nov. 21, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite into orbit.. The spacecraft was sponsored by the European Space Agency, with instruments built by American scientists at CalTech. During its near 6 year mission Sentinel-6 will collect oceanographic data about the effects of climate change.
One month later the final SpaceX launch of 2020 delivered a classified satellite developed by the National Reconnaissance Office, the federal agency responsible for designing, building and launching satellites for intelligence gathering.
The bookend SpaceX missions perfectly illustrate the key drivers of the new space economy.
Climate science and national defense interests are racing to deploy new satellites. The former is being motivated by the reduced cost of getting monitoring equipment into orbit. Security interests worry space is becoming a contested domain. Adversaries will not wait.
Coincidentally, the penultimate SpaceX 2020 launch featured a new satellite developed by SiriusXM, the digital radio provider. The SXM-7 satellite was jointly develop by Maxar Technologies.
Investing in the evolution of the space economy is difficult because SpaceX, the most important company, is not a public entity. Larger aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin ( (LMT) - Get Lockheed Martin Corporation Report) and Boeing ( (BA) - Get Boeing Company Report) will benefit but they are not pure plays.
Maxar Technologies is attractive on two fronts. The Westminster, Col.-based business builds the world’s most popular geosynchronous spacecraft platform. This means companies like Sirius can put together new satellites with speed and cost efficiency. In the new space economy that is a key competitive advantage.
Maxar is also investing heavily in 3D imaging software and analytics. The company currently operates a constellation of imaging satellites that managers claim is the evolution of global positioning systems. When complete, the platform will accurately display where objects are located in the physical world, and where they are moving to.
This kind of real-time, photorealistic imagery will be extremely valuable for financial market traders. Being able to see the state of agricultural crops, or if an oil rig has stopped is a value added tool. And there are other applications for construction planning and military operations planning, too.
The company had sales of $2.2 billion in 2019. However the real story is the future of the business. Shares trade at only 35x forward earnings and 1.2x sales. Given the potential growth of its business segments that is an extremely reasonable valuation.
Investors should use weakness in the shares to accumulate longer-term positions. The stock is now trading at $34.14, nicely higher than its March low at $10 but much lower than its 2015 high at $75. It ccould easily trade into the $55 level within 12 months, a gain of 55% from current levels.