Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

SpaceX Scores Another Touchdown

By Rich Smith – Jul 19, 2016 at 11:44AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

But investors still can't bet on this game.


SpaceX Falcon 9 is back in the nest. This is what a successful rocket landing looks like. Image source: SpaceX.

Advantage -- SpaceX.

In case you haven't noticed, there's a duel ongoing between upstart space company SpaceX -- the company that's disrupting Boeing (BA 2.03%) and Lockheed Martin's (LMT 0.18%) monopoly over U.S. spaceflight -- and Jeff Bezos' even upstart-ier Blue Origin. Every time one company accomplishes one "first" in spaceflight (Blue Origin's landing a sub-orbital rocket after reaching the verge of space, for example), its rival tops it (like SpaceX's landing a rocket from orbital flight).

The net effect is like climbing a ladder, with each competitor's accomplishment driving its rival to climb to the next rung, while leaving Boeing and Lockheed Martin farther and farther behind. And these companies don't look likely to stop climbing any time soon -- because over the weekend, SpaceX just surpassed Blue Origin yet again.

A, B, C, easy as 1, 2, 3 (but then it gets harder)

Last month, SpaceX had the lead over its rival in successful landings of rockets launched to space. After one successful landing at Landing Zone 1 in Florida, and three successful landings on an unmanned drone barge at sea, SpaceX had accomplished not just technologically more difficult landings than its rival, but it had also conducted more of them.

SpaceX fumbled a chance to run up the score on June 15, when a Falcon 9 rocket, after delivering its "Eutelsat 117 West B" and "ABS 2A video relay" payloads to orbit, crashed on attempting to land on SpaceX's drone barge. And three days later, Blue Origin drew even at four successful landings, all on land, when its New Shephard rocket conducted its third successful relaunch on June 19, and its fourth landing that same day.

Early Monday morning, though, SpaceX pulled back into the lead with a midnight launch of its CRS-9 mission to resupply the International Space Station in low Earth orbit (LEO). A few minutes later, the Falcon 9 first-stage rocket that lofted CRS-9 skyward touched down without incident at Landing Zone 1.

Lucky No. 5

For those keeping score at home, the list of SpaceX's successful landings now includes:

  • Orbcomm-2, launched to LEO and landed at Landing Zone 1 on Dec. 21, 2015.
  • CRS-8, launched to resupply ISS in LEO and landed at sea on April 8, 2016.
  • JCSAT-14, launched to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and landed at sea on May 6, 2016.
  • Thaicom 8, likewise launched to GTO and landed at sea on May 27, 2016.
  • CRS-9, launched to LEO and landed at Landing Zone 1 on July 17, 2016.

And by my count, that gives SpaceX five successful orbital landings to Blue Origin's four suborbital landings.

What it means to investors

In a sense, all of this feels rather esoteric to investors. We watch in awe as Blue Origin and SpaceX leapfrog from success to success -- but we can't really, fully appreciate these successes, because both Blue Origin and SpaceX are privately owned. The only companies that we are allowed to own are publicly traded laggards Boeing and Lockheed -- and yes, Airbus (EADSY 2.32%), Orbital ATK (OA), and a few others.

That's frustrating, no doubt. But it doesn't mean we can afford to ignore what Blue Origin and SpaceX are up to. By definition, each time SpaceX launches a satellite, that's a contract that Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- or their European rival, Airbus partner Arianespace -- didn't win. It's revenues going somewhere else than to the company that we might own shares of. And it's a trend that's likely to get even bigger once Blue Origin begins launching orbital rockets of its own, as it's gearing up to do.

In time, we still hope to see SpaceX and Blue Origin IPO. And we'll cheer with appropriate enthusiasm when they do. But until then, these companies are risks to investors.

They're big ones.

And they bear watching.


Only Falcon 9's flame is visible as it descends through the night sky, turning SpaceX into a shining star of American industry. And no, you can't buy it. Yet. Image source: SpaceX.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 308 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

The Motley Fool recommends Orbital ATK. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Boeing Stock Quote
Boeing
BA
$175.32 (2.03%) $3.49
Lockheed Martin Stock Quote
Lockheed Martin
LMT
$484.10 (0.18%) $0.89
Orbital ATK, Inc. Stock Quote
Orbital ATK, Inc.
OA
Airbus Stock Quote
Airbus
EADSY
$28.24 (2.32%) $0.64

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
351%
 
S&P 500 Returns
115%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 11/29/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.