As Billionaires Race to Outer Orbit, Space ETFs Take Off

A new space race is underway, as Virgin Galactic (SPCE) founder Richard Branson prepares for a test flight to the edge of space before Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos gets there himself.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Branson hopes to get to space Sunday via his company’s space tourism division, Virgin Orbit. The flight will take place nine days prior to Bezos’s scheduled test flight via his own space tourism company, Blue Orbit. 

A spokesperson for Branson told the WSJ that Branson had always planned to participate in a test flight for promotional purposes and to reassure the public of the safety of space travel. 

The firms claim the timing in beating Bezos to space is purely coincidental. 

Branson’s flight will use airplanes equipped with a space launch vehicle that will detach and then climb to the edge of space at the Kármán line, which is recognized by NASA at 50 miles above sea level. 

This is the latest in a series of test flights for Virgin Orbit. In January, the division successfully test launched one of its satellite-carrying rockets. 

Virgin Orbit is planning to go public via a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) later this year, with an intended valuation of $3 billion.

Investing in Space: UFO & ARKX

Space tourism has caught the eye of several billionaires, including SpaceX’s Elon Musk. 

Their efforts are likely to lead to ripple effects in space stocks—and space ETFs. 

Currently there are two pure-play space ETFs: the $621 milion ARK Space Exploration and Innovation ETF (ARKX) and the $131 million Procure Space ETF (UFO).

UFO was the first to head to space. Launched in 2019, the fund tracks the S-Network Space Index, an index that tracks companies involved in a variety of space-related enterprises. This includes firms involved in satellite and rocket manufacturing, satellite-based consumer services and products, space technology hardware, and space intelligence services, including imagery. 

Top holdings in UFO include Virgin Galactic Holdings, with a 5.97% weight; Trimble Inc (TRMB), a satellite component manufacturer with a 4.95% weight; and GlobalStar Inc (GSAT), a satellite-based communications company with a 4.89% weight. 

UFO has an expense ratio of 0.75%.

ARK Enters the Space Race

Meanwhile, in March, ARK Investment Management launched its own take on the space theme, the ARK Space Exploration and Innovation ETF (ARKX)

ARKX tracks space exploration and innovation companies, including orbital space companies, suborbital space companies, companies that enable the technologies used for space exploration, and companies that are positioned to benefit from space exploration.

ARKX, like most ARK funds, is actively managed. In practice, that allows the fund to turn to out-of-the-box holdings that investors don’t readily associate with the space industry.

Top holdings within ARKX include Trimble Inc (with 9.64% weight); the company’s own 3D Printing ETF (PRNT), with a 6.8% weight; and Kratos Defense and Security (KTOS), with a 6.51% weight. 

ARKX has an expense ratio of 0.75%.

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