Space stocks are more than just a tourist pipe dream, a sentiment that burned investors of the ill-fated Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE). Instead, investors bullish on space’s future should look to companies providing real value today while leveraging space-age (pun intended) tech. Companies with a viable operational model today can best continue developing tech to capture tomorrow’s upside without risking short-term financial struggles. Such was the fate that befell Virgin Galactic.
These space stocks offer long-term, moonshot-style potential but have the financial and operational viability to keep shooting for the stars.
Rocket Lab USA (RKLB)
Rocket Lab USA (NASDAQ:RKLB) closed 2023 on a high note, making it a top space stock to watch in 2024.
Just before Christmas, the space stock surged 25% after locking in a $515 million government contract. The deal includes manufacturing 18 space vehicles, with long-term maintenance once launched. The contract goes through 2030 with a possible extension to 2033, Thus, the plan gives Rocket Lab USA a solid runway to further growth while ensuring short-term viability.
Last year went on record for Rocket Lab as the company marked two milestones – its 42nd Electron rocket launch and its 10th launch in a single year (a new record for the space stock). The milestones, plus the government contract, signified a strong end to 2023 for Rocket Lab, especially considering a previous flight failure that tumbled shares.
Rocket Lab’s current valuation is quite steep, considering the government contract is nearly double its annual revenue. Its market cap sits at $2.69 billion and trades at more than 11x sales. Both stats indicate investors are pricing in substantial growth. Therefore, shares may trade sideways for a bit until new developments emerge. Still, Rocket Lab’s government contract marks a major positive for the space stock’s long-term potential.
AST SpaceMobile (ASTS)
AST SpaceMobile (NASDAQ:ASTS) is bringing cell connectivity to global, rural populations without needing to run cable or build towers in remote locations. Instead, ASTS is using low-earth satellites to give ground users 5G cell service regardless of their location. In fact, 2023 marked the world’s first 5G satellite call between standard cell phones. This creates an explosive start to 2024.
Analysts rate ASTS highly among communications stocks, placing it higher than 96% of those in the sector. At the same time, though shares jumped in recent months, the small-cap space stock seems slightly undervalued considering its 2024 potential. This year should mark the first commercialization opportunity for ASTS post-testing. Further, early use cases could accelerate global adoption.
Though not a perfect parallel, Starlink’s meteoric rise offers insight into ASTS’ possible trajectory. The company should lock in $9 billion in revenue for 2023 and projects nearly $15 billion in 2024. While Starlink’s wider internet offerings do cover a greater target market, ASTS’ unique value proposition still addresses an otherwise neglected consumer base.
Planet Labs (PL)
Planet Labs (NYSE:PL) brings space-age offerings to everyday operations for a range of agricultural and government entities.
The company uses satellites to generate high-resolution imagery for a range of uses. Current applications include crop management, climate monitoring, urban planning, and more. These varied use cases bring high-resolution satellite tech to a range of customers. Freely available mapping tech doesn’t quite cut it.
Better yet, PL is leveraging AI to better terrestrial life. The company is part of an emerging series of tools that improve wildfire detection and prevention through AI. Planet Labs’ part in the endeavor includes generating high-resolution imagery to support an interactive risk map. This has led to 80% accuracy in wildfire prediction in a recent series of tests.
Today, Planet Labs is a space stock trading within penny stock territory after a series of poor earnings forecasts. Still, the company is a leader in satellite tech, and its multiple use cases offer upside to a range of industries.
On the date of publication, Jeremy Flint held no positions in the securities mentioned. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.