Space travel is capturing the public's imagination like it's the 1960s all over again, and investors are going along for the ride. There are now numerous opportunities to cash in on the space race, but that doesn't make all of the companies going public worth your money.

Rocket Lab (NASDAQ:RKLB) quickly gained altitude after going public at the end of August through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), but more recently, the satellite launcher's stock has been heading for a splashdown. 

Shares are off 33% from the highs they hit earlier this month. But is Rocket Lab is a buy at these prices?

Rocket launch above the clouds

Image source: Getty Images.

Countdown to launch

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 and has been servicing the aerospace industry since 2018, when its Electron rocket made its first orbital launch and deployed customer satellites for Earth imaging, weather monitoring, and ship tracking. 

Since then, Rocket Lab has held 21 successful launches; deployed 105 satellites, as well as two of its own Photon spacecraft, which are configurable for customer-specific missions; and built three privately owned launch sites. 

Its New Zealand complex was the world's first privately owned launch pad and can handle a launch every 72 hours. A second pad was built to accommodate missions for the U.S. government.

A rocket-ride of opportunity

Business is booming for Rocket Labs. Second-quarter revenue jumped 237% from the prior-year period, while its backlog of business grew 136% to $141 million. Included in that are deals with NASA.

In the process, Rocket Lab has become the only private competitor to Elon Musk's SpaceX that is reliably conducting regular launches, though their target markets have typically been different. Where SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets can carry payloads up to 50,000 pounds, Rocket Labs Electron can only handle payloads up to 500 pounds. As such, the rocket specialists largely complement one another rather than truly competing against each other.

However, Rocket Lab is developing its Neutron rocket, which is designed to handle payloads of up to 8 metric tons, or 17,600 pounds. That wouldn't match the Falcon 9's capabilities, but it would open up more possibilities and commercial opportunities for the company.

With reaching Mars a common goal in the space race, Rocket Lab has noted that the Neutron will be capable of handling payloads of as much as 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) for a Mars mission (Venus, too!). It's expected to be ready for commercial use in 2024.

And like SpaceX's rockets, all of Rocket Lab's rockets are fully reusable.

Satellite in orbit around Earth

Image source: Getty Images.

Payoffs from payloads

In the meantime, Rocket Lab is busying itself with more mundane jobs. For example, it just announced it won a contract with Astroscale Japan to launch in 2023 a satellite tasked with cleaning up large-scale space debris from orbit. 

Previously, it announced a contract to orbit a constellation of 25 satellites for French Internet of Things company Kinéis over the course of five launches beginning in 2023. Those satellites will deliver internet connectivity for industrial and logistics assets worldwide. 

Rocket Lab has also entered into a contract with Varda Space Industries to manufacture and operate three of its Photon spacecraft to enable in-space manufacturing.

Mission accomplished

It's estimated the total addressable market of the space market is around $1.4 trillion, of which Rocket Lab has barely begun to scratch the surface. Yet it is quickly accelerating as it moves from launching more than 100 rockets over a span of three years to undertaking some 500 missions annually.

Even if the analysts' estimations of this market's size are a bit hyperbolic, Rocket Lab can still grab a sizable chunk of the available demand for rocket launches, whether the destinations are to Earth orbit, the moon, or Venus and Mars.

Its $6.7 billion valuation is not out of this world for the business Rocket Lab is doing. Though it is still generating losses at the moment, today's prices for Rocket Lab's stock may come to look exceptionally cheap in retrospect as the new space-based economy unfolds.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.