Have you heard the news yet? I bet you have. Nokia (NYSE:NOK), the company that started out producing paper in Finland, evolved into the world's largest cellphone company, then lost that franchise and refocused on telecom infrastructure instead, has just won a $14 million NASA contract to build a 4G wireless cellphone network on the moon!
Integrated into a lunar lander spacecraft that will make moonfall in 2022, Nokia's central 4G system will permit lunar rovers (which will arrive later) to communicate with their base camp, and from there with orbiting spacecraft and Earth itself. That's pretty impressive -- but Nokia's contract was just one of 15 total contracts that NASA handed out last week, totaling $370 million in combined value.
Here are a few of those other contracts that you may have missed.
Lockheed Martin -- $90 million
Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) is the world's biggest pure-play defense contractor, and also one of NASA's top 10 contractors by dollars awarded. It's not too surprising, then, to learn that the biggest of the 15 NASA "Tipping Point" contracts awarded last week went to the aerospace giant. For $89.7 million, Lockheed will run an in-space mission demonstrating how hydrogen can be used in "more than a dozen cryogenic fluid management technologies" that might be employed in future space missions.
United Launch Alliance -- $86 million
NASA's second-biggest Tipping Point contract also kind of went to Lockheed Martin -- in part. Lockheed, in cooperation with partner Boeing (NYSE:BA), owns half of United Launch Alliance (ULA), and for $86.2 million this joint venture of space giants will demonstrate the use of a liquid oxygen and hydrogen cryogenic propulsion system in the upper stage of their new Vulcan Centaur rocket.
SpaceX -- $53 million
ULA's archrival in space, privately held SpaceX, took NASA's third-largest contract. For $53.2 million, Elon Musk's pioneering space company will demonstrate its ability to conduct in-space refueling by transferring 10 tons of liquid oxygen between tanks contained within its new Starship spacecraft.
In future years, this technology is what SpaceX would use to, for example, put Starships in orbit, and then refuel them from "tanker" Starships sent up expressly for this purpose. Once proven viable, this technology will not only enable SpaceX vessels to travel directly to destinations such as the moon and Mars. It will also facilitate the development of in-orbit satellite refueling services, such as are being pioneered by Northrop Grumman and soon-to-be-public Momentus.
Maxar Technologies -- $9 million
Dropping dramatically down the value ladder now, tiny Maxar Technologies (NYSE:MAXR) is a specialist in space hardware and satellite imaging services (Earth photography). It has also secured key contracts to help build NASA's proposed Lunar Gateway, which will orbit the moon. Maxar's latest NASA contract win, also one of the Tipping Point contracts, gives the company $8.7 million to develop a new light-weight robotic arm for use both on the surface of the moon and in in-orbit satellite servicing operations. (See above.)
Teledyne -- $3 million
Finally, in a nod to fans of the "hydrogen economy" and renewable energy investors here on Earth, NASA has awarded Teledyne (NYSE:TDY) $2.8 million to develop a hydrogen fuel cell system capable of operating for 10,000 hours (if supplied with enough fuel, that is).
What it all means to investors
Other companies won other contracts, of course -- among them Masten Space Systems, which won $10 million to advance its development of a prototype lunar lander, and Intuitive Machines (both of which we've written about previously), which landed a big $41.6 million contract for its lunar lander. But the above list covers all of the Tipping Point award winners that either already are publicly traded, or are nearing a point at which they might IPO and become available for public investment. If you are interested in investing in the space economy, these companies offer some of the most immediate ways to do that.
More broadly, however, the technologies that NASA is funding through these particular contracts, with these particular companies, hold promise for enabling yet more space economy services that may in future years be offered by still other companies -- services such as in-orbit satellite repair and refueling, for example, which could lower the cost of providing internet and other communications services from space by extending satellite service lives.
In that regard, even if you aren't interested in investing in today's winners, it's still worth keeping an eye on what they're up to -- and the new possibilities that they are opening up.