I can insert Star Trek references all day long, but I won't. To be brutally honest, the Trekkie fan in me tends to make an appearance almost every time I catch wind of new technological breakthroughs that have anything remotely to do with space travel.
Who doesn't, really? But I digress - maybe it's just me. Apologies to all the non sci-fi fans out there …
However, I think that all of you would agree with me that space does present infinite possibilities, especially when it comes to investment opportunities. Case in point: Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB).
Based in Virginia, Orbital was founded in 1980 by three Harvard Business School students who won a NASA space research contest. They incorporated in 1982 and signed an agreement to sell its first space vehicle to NASA one year later.
NASA paid $35 million for Orbital's Transfer Orbit Stage - an upper stage mechanism that was eventually utilized in 1992 to help propel the first Mars Observer spacecraft. Since then Orbital has continued to develop and manufacture various rockets and space travel systems for government and military contracts. But most recently, it has ventured into the exciting world of private spaceships.
Though private unmanned shuttles, satellites and other vehicles have been put into orbit for decades, the idea of launching privately-funded spacecraft was popularized in 2004 by SpaceShipOne's maiden flights which took private citizens to the uppermost edge of Earth's atmosphere and beyond.
Private spaceflights began to heat up soon after, with notable companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin each sinking billions of dollars into their own projects. Most of these projects have been viewed as nothing more than hobbies for the uber-wealthy without any legitimate commercial opportunities.
That is, until PayPal founder Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) unveiled its Dragon spacecraft. On May 25, 2012, SpaceX became the first ever privately-held company to send a cargo payload and dock its vehicle at the International Space Station - ISS.
The success of the Dragon voyage had a major impact on the world of private space travel, and a spotlight soon began to shine on publicly traded companies like Orbital. Since the end of 2008, Orbital had been busy developing its Cygnus cargo delivery craft (see picture above).
NASA awarded Orbital a $1.9 billion contract for the company to transport up to 20 tons of cargo to the ISS on eight separate spacecraft flights through 2016. To bring Cygnus into space, Orbital designed and created its own rocket launch system called the Antares, which is the largest rocket ever created by Orbital.
After a series of low-orbit tests in early 2013, the Antares was deemed ready for its official mission with Cygnus onboard. On September 18, 2013, Cygnus was launched into space…but it almost didn't make it.
While it was scheduled to dock with the ISS about five days later, a software glitch caused a six-day delay. After deploying a software patch, Orbital eventually made history by becoming only the second private company to rendezvous with the ISS and successfully deliver its payload on September 29th.
This milestone now means that Orbital is go-for-launch with its seven remaining trips. What investors should take note of is that the contract with NASA is valued at $500,000 higher than Orbital's current market cap of $1.4 billion.
As such, this is an incredible opportunity to take advantage of a company that's going to see value get built into its stock price with each subsequent flight into space. What's more, Orbital's achievement was remarkable as it re-affirmed that private spaceflight is not simply a pricey flash in the pan (with SpaceX) - but the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the aerospace industry.
No longer is the world going to rely just on expensive, taxpayer-funded shuttles or decades-old rockets that are well beyond their useful life to advance in the space race. While investing in Orbital does not guarantee that you'll live long, there's a good chance that you could prosper (sorry, I just couldn't help myself).