What's the next internet-like investing opportunity? Some on Wall Street say it's spaceflight
New spaceflight technologies could reshape the global economy on a level not seen since the internet.Posted — Updated
That's what some in the industry and on Wall Street are saying, at least. And a growing number of analysts say it's time for mainstream investors to get in on the action.
We're entering a new era in which the private sector is offering cheap and reliable access to space. That could pave the way for wild new businesses like in-orbit hotels or asteroid mining. New satellite and rocket technologies could also shake up a broad range of industries, from air travel to broadband service and data storage.
"Costs are coming down and technology is improving," said Laura Kane, a long-term investing analyst at UBS. We're "getting beyond the realm of science fiction fans and thinking about where returns can be had."
The space economy is following the roadmap of the internet revolution: Just like in the early dot-com days, flashy Silicon Valley types and a wellspring of venture capital money are pushing the envelope. The most high profile names are billionaire-backed startups, like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.
It's too soon to tell which firms might be the Google or Facebook of the space industry, Kane said. But smart mainstream investors don't need to know that for sure.
"I wouldn't only look at new emerging private companies," Kane added. "I'd also be looking at communications services companies. Maybe they're creating more advanced satellites, or looking at aerospace and defense companies that may be investing in new space technologies."
In other words, stock market investors can put together diverse portfolios of space-related companies that will benefit from a new space age — and then hang on for the long haul, Kane said.
A bird's-eye look at the space industry
The global space industry is currently valued at about $340 billion. Top financial institutions, from Goldman Sachs to Morgan Stanley, predict it will grow to $1 trillion or more over the next two decades.
Hip new rocket companies are the most visible leaders in space, but launch services actually account for only a small fraction of the overall industry's revenue. Ground equipment and satellite services — like space-based television, broadband and Earth observation — are much larger businesses. Analysts say plans to beam cheap, high-speed internet from space will change the global economy.
Investors who aren't sure where to start could check out an index or the first-ever ETF, or exchange-traded fund, that is focused solely on giving investors broad exposure to the booming space economy, according to its developers.
The ETF began trading on the NYSE Arca exchange this month with the ticker UFO. It's based on the S-Network Space Index, which debuted last year, and includes a diverse blend of about 30 companies. They include telecom and satellite companies from AT&T to Iridium, along with old-school space and defense contractors, like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Micah Walter-Range, who developed the index, is an industry expert who said he left the Space Foundation, a space industry-focused nonprofit, to figure out "how regular people like me can invest in space."
The central idea: Investors don't need to invest directly in young startups because there is no clear divide between "new space" and "old space" companies, Walter-Range told CNN Business.
The entire industry exists in a feedback loop. Many old-guard companies are investing in next-generation ideas to stay competitive. SpaceX's rockets frequently deploy satellites built by its competitors. And Blue Origin also has a deal to sell its rocket engines to United Launch Alliance, Boeing and Lockheed's joint venture.
The interplay between companies in the space community mean they all stand to benefit from new technologies.
The next internet?
Not every Wall Street analyst is sold on the idea that the commercial space industry will be as disruptive as the internet. Paul Penney, a senior research analyst at Northland Capital Markets, said he thinks the idea is "a bit of an exaggeration."
But he acknowledged that all of these well-funded companies are looking to monetize space in new ways, and they certainly talk a big game.
"A revolution is upon the world," Chuck Beames, a seed investor and chairman of satellite tech startup York, recently declared in a Forbes column.
Beames declared the space industry is "on a trajectory reminiscent of the early years of the desktop computer," he wrote, one that "portends to alter the destiny of not just today's economy but ultimately the very evolution of humankind."
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