The Big Dogs
The big dogs when it comes to space are SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and United Launch Alliance. SpaceX is a private company, currently valued at $74B, and has access to the second richest man on Earth, Elon Musk. The value of Blue Origin, which is also private, remains unknown — however, it happens to be the new favorite child of the richest man on Earth, Jeff Bezos. Virgin Galactic, which benefited from the SPAC boom (more on that later), is public and has a ~$12.5B market cap. United Launch Alliance is the three-way love child of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the United States government.
SpaceX has the largest market share in the commercial launch industry. It built a stable and profitable business launching satellites. This business, however, has a small customer base and slow growth — its main customers are NASA and the U.S. DOD, and the commercial space launch industry is projected to only grow from $5B in 2017 to $7B in 2024. Even Musk himself said SpaceX’s yearly launch revenue will probably ‘tap out’ at $3B. But Musk and SpaceX have a trick up their sleeves to diversify the company beyond launches — Starlink. Starlink is SpaceX’s idea to provide the majority of the world with the internet via a network of satellites. These satellites will be launched into orbit by none other than SpaceX.
Although Blue Origin is dabbling in space tourism, its main business and roadmap are similar to SpaceX’s. Like SpaceX, Blue Origin has obtained contracted launches from NASA and the DOD in addition to a few engineering contracts from the likes of DARPA.
Unlike its peers, Virgin Galactic has cast aside the launch business and is instead opting to double down on space tourism. Branson is expectedly very bullish on the industry's future. He believes that it has room for 20 companies and believes 2 million people will take trips on Virgin’s rockets. To date, Virgin Galactic has 600 reservations, and Branson believes they’ll reduce prices with scale, allowing people the opportunity to become astronauts. Just hope one doesn’t blow up or the whole company could literally go up in smoke.
United Launch Alliance
Back in 2006, it became clear that launches would need to become increasingly privatized. This led to the establishment of ULA through a joint venture between Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and a taxpayer-supported plan to cover all the fixed costs associated with launches. This met criticism from the likes of SpaceX, who claimed the company was a monopoly. In response to SpaceX’s accusations, the FTC gave ULA antitrust clearance because at the time ULA’s benefit to national security outweighed any anti-competitive concerns. A few years later, rival SpaceX was now a worthy competitor in the commercial launch industry. The only problem: ULA was still being propped up by the government. This ongoing beef between ULA and SpaceX continues today — Elon Musk recently claimed ULA would be “ dead as a doornail” without the DOD’s financial support.