European defense and aerospace conglomerate EADS leapfrogged Northrop Grumman Corp. into third place in the latest Space News survey of the world’s top 50 space manufacturing and services companies. A close fourth on last year’s list, and fifth the year before, EADS’sAstrium space division is steadily narrowing the gap with Lockheed Martin Corp., which made the top slot for the third year in a row, and Boeing Co., whose space-related revenue declined for a fourth straight year.

Lockheed Martin continued to pull away from Boeing, its perennial U.S. rival, posting a 9 percent increase in space revenue, but EADS Astrium outpaced all of the major primes with a 20 percent jump in sales. The company attributed its growth to better performance on the Ariane 5 rocket program, work on France’s M51 strategic missile and a rapidly growing space-based services business.

The data used to compile the annual Space News list of the top 50 space manufacturing and services companies is drawn primarily from responses to surveys filled out by the companies and annual reports. Oftentimes, particularly in the case of diversified firms for which space accounts for only a portion of annual revenue, it is a combination of the two.

Unlike recent years, the sales figures for European firms like EADS in the latest rankings were not inflated by sharp declines in the dollar’s value relative to the euro. Revenue numbers provided in non-U.S. currencies were converted according to Dec. 31, 2008, exchange rates, when 1 euro was worth $1.409 – down from $1.472 a year earlier.

Movement up and down the rankings can reflect a variety of factors, including organic growth, acquisitions and divestitures, and even the way a company chooses to classify its revenue. CSC, for example, vaulted four slots to the No. 8 ranking this year after reporting space revenue growth of 40 percent, but the company attributed the increase to an internal accounting change rather than a surge of new business.

Not all companies choose to participate every year. Notable among those who passed on this year’s survey is United Technologies Corp., whose businesses include Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the dominant U.S. maker of liquid-fueled rocket engines, and spacesuit maker Hamilton Sundstrand. United Technologies Corp. typically is among the top 20 companies; its space-related revenue for 2007 was over $1 billion, good enough for the No. 16 ranking.

Other manufacturers that clearly had enough business volume to land on the list but for which reliable revenue figures are unavailable include government-owned industry flagships such as RSC Energia, and Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, both of Russia, and China Aerospace Corp. and its various affiliate organizations.

Another significant omission is United Launch Alliance (ULA), the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture that builds and launches Atlas and Delta rockets, primarily for U.S. government customers. The U.S. Air Force spends more than $1 billion per year on the Atlas and Delta rocket program; NASA and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office also contribute to ULA revenue. As was the case last year, ULA would not divulge its revenue, and Lockheed Martin and Boeing did not include ULA revenue in their numbers.

Conversely, United Space Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that operates NASA’s space shuttles, did provide its revenue number, which was not included in the figures for its parent companies.

Had the Boeing and Lockheed Martin revenue figures included the contributions of ULA and United Space Alliance, they would have been substantially higher, likely by more than $1.5 billion each.

In a significant departure from the recent past, Space News elected to put the focus back on traditional manufacturing, including software and engineering services, in compiling the 2009 rankings. Thus, companies whose primary product is space-based services, such as satellite imagery or communications bandwidth, were not included. It needs to be noted that the numbers for some of the companies that did make the list include revenue from similar types of services; it was not possible to filter out that data.

The omission of the space-based service companies made room for smaller manufacturers on this year’s list. Companies like Oerlikon Space of Germany, GMV of Spain and Swedish Space Corp. did not make the top 50 last year, and would not have even with their improved revenue figures for 2008.

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