Times are tough and getting tougher, even at the top.

That’s the main takeaway from the latest annual Space News Top 50 survey of the space industry’s leading manufacturers and service providers. Three of the top five companies in this year’s rankings reported space revenue declines in 2010, while another was virtually flat relative to 2009.

Astrium, the space division of Europe’s EADS aerospace conglomerate, was alone among the top five in reporting measurable growth in 2010. Astrium also is the sole non-U.S. company within this group, an indication that U.S. industry in particular is beginning to feel the long-anticipated decline in U.S. government space spending.

Nevertheless, Astrium’s 2010 growth rate, at 4 percent, was down relative to 2009, when revenue increased by 12 percent due in part to what the company described as a catch-up orbital incentive payment by a commercial customer. If that one-time payment is factored out of the equation, Astrium’s 2009 growth rate is 7 percent, which is still substantially higher than 2010.

The order of the top five companies in the rankings remains unchanged from last year, with Lockheed Martin leading the pack for the fifth year in a row despite a slight dip in space- and missile-defense related revenue. Boeing was second, followed by EADS Astrium, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Data for the Space News Top 50 are compiled primarily from annual reports and responses to survey forms sent to the leading space contractors around the world. The process is complicated by the fact that companies whose space revenue is not spelled out in annual reports — and who choose to respond to the survey — use subjective counting methods that can vary from year to year.

For example, unlike previous years, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing included the proceeds from their United Space Alliance joint venture, operator of NASA’s space shuttles, in their 2010 space revenue figures. As a result, those revenue numbers are inflated relative to the rankings for 2009, in which United Space Alliance came in at No. 9 with $1.8 billion in sales. In the case of Boeing, the revenue figures provided in the latest survey were further inflated because the company chose to include all sales recorded by its Network and Space Systems division, which includes work in cyber security and tactical networks. Much of this work was not counted in previous Top 50 surveys.

In any given year, some well-known space companies decline to participate in the survey. Among those who begged off this time around were technology giant CSC and top-tier component supplier Honeywell, who took the No. 8 and No. 16 positions, respectively, in last year’s rankings. Similarly, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, one of Japan’s leading space hardware manufacturers, chose not to provide its space revenue. On the other hand, United Technologies Corp., whose space businesses include Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the leading U.S. provider of liquid-fuel rocket engines, opted in this year after declining to participate the previous two years.

Sometimes annual reports only tell part of the story. For example, Aerojet’s sales to NASA and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency can readily be gleaned from its annual report, but there is no reliable way to estimate the company’s space- and missile defense-related sales to the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Had these figures been available, Aerojet undoubtedly would have listed higher in the rankings.

Finally, reliable sales estimates are unavailable for government-owned space manufacturers in countries like Russia, the Ukraine, China and India and are thus not included in these rankings. Based on visible production volume, many of these companies otherwise would command positions high up on the list.


SEE 2010 TOP 50 CHART (1 – 25) HERE

SEE 2010 TOP 50 CHART (26 – 50) HERE

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...