SpaceDev Burns Rubber

You don't need to carry a light saber or speak Klingon to get excited about the doings in Mojave today. SpaceShipOne, the product of aviation visionary Burt Rutan and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) co-founder Paul Allen, won the X Prize by returning to suborbital space for the second time in a span of just days. This is expected to usher in a new era of commercial spaceflight, though the first few flights -- which will last only a handful of stomach-churning minutes -- are still years away.

So, as an investor, after wiping away that tear of American pride, you're naturally wondering: How can I cash in on this? Alas, the only profitable fliers these days, outfits such as JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU  ) and SouthwestAirlines (NYSE: LUV  ) , don't seem to be considering the space race -- and is this a place where you want to go to a low-budget carrier?

Unfortunately, you won't find publicly traded firms among the main players in today's X-prize win: Allen's Mojave Aerospace Ventures, Rutan's Scaled Composites, and Richard Branson's newly launchedVirgin Galactic.

About the only interested party that you can get a piece of is a small company called SpaceDev (OTC BB: SPDV). Now before you rush out and put in a buy order, keep in mind that this is a microscopic speck of a company. Unlike some tiny enterprises in dreamland enterprises, it has both revenues and an operating profit, but sustained profitability is still somewhere on the horizon, if it's there at all.

This little upstart lists Boeing, NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory among its customers. And to judge by the briefest perusal of recent filings, the folks in charge are real zealots, and they want this thing to work.

Witness the "related transactions" in a recent proxy, where you find interest-free loans between officers and the company. That would be a major red flag if it were not that the funds were moving to the company, rather than out of it.

One of its primary claims to fame is a rocket motor that burns a combination of rubber and laughing gas. Stop the giggling. Not only is this a safe fuel combination, since both materials are inert before being mixed and lit, but also it works: SpaceShipOne's motor used this technology. The total contract value was just more than $400,000, but if the success helps SpaceDev get its foot in the door with Virgin Galactic and others, who knows where it could lead?

To reiterate: As Bill Mann has pointed out here and here, this is hardly a risk-free investment. But if you're the kind of person who wants to have a share of Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HDI  ) or Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) because you're a fan, here's your chance to own a bit of the next space race.

If you like to invest on the edges, take a peek at David Gardner'sRule Breakers. A trial is free.

Seth Jayson hopes you all live long and prosper. At the time of publication, he had positions in no company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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