Holding Steady at the Top in ’09

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Revenues at the upper tier of the world’s leading space companies were relatively flat for 2009 with the notable exception of EADS Astrium, whose sales grew by double digits for the fourth straight year.

The diversified European space conglomerate solidified its No. 3 position in the annual Space News survey of the world’s top 50 space manufacturing and services companies, pulling away from Northrop Grumman, which came in fourth, and closing the gap with second-place Boeing. Lockheed Martin’s $10.9 billion in space-related revenue earned it the top slot for the fourth year in a row.

One factor in Astrium’s continued growth is its Astrium Services division, which includes Paradigm Secure Communications, provider of satellite bandwidth to the British and other NATO militaries. Astrium Services also now owns an 81 percent stake in the Earth observation firm Spot Image. Astrium Services’ revenue grew by nearly 18 percent in 2009, to 960 million euros ($1.376 billion at Dec. 31 exchange rates), accounting for 20 percent of Astrium’s overall sales.

The major U.S. contractors, meanwhile, continue to report solid bookings on classified programs even as unclassified Pentagon space spending enters what some observers believe will be a sustained decline, with key fleet recapitalization programs passing peak development years. This decline could be offset by NASA, which is targeted for a $6 billion spending increase over the next five years.

It remains to be seen which companies would benefit most from the NASA increase given the uncertainty over the direction of the agency’s human spaceflight program. With the space shuttle now likely to continue operating well into 2011, United Space Alliance, which operates the orbiter fleet, should not fall too far back on next year’s list from its current No. 9 position. In any case, any tectonic shift at NASA that causes substantial changes in the rankings probably won’t be seen at least until 2012 — if it occurs at all.

As always, this year’s list is an incomplete one. Reliable revenue figures are not available for the big Russian, Chinese and Indian space manufacturers, which are government-owned. Clearly, organizations such as Khrunichev and Energia in Russia, the China Aerospace Corp. and perhaps Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of India’s space agency, generate enough revenue to be included in the rankings.

Several Western companies that have participated in the past chose not to do so this year. These include United Technologies Corp., owner of rocket engine builder Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne — No. 16 in the rankings two years ago with 2007 revenue topping $1 billion — and the European propulsion provider Safran Group, whose $899 million in 2008 space sales earned it the No. 20 ranking on last year’s list.

Harris Corp., a major provider of satellite communications gear and space-related information technology, was unable to participate because its 2009 financial results had not been released by press time. Harris ranked No. 23 on last year’s list with $800 million in space revenue, and likely would have claimed a similar position this year.

Finally, U.S. propulsion provider Aerojet dropped five slots — from No. 32 last year to No. 37 in the latest rankings — due not to a sales decline but to a newly enforced accounting policy under which it only breaks out the relevant revenue figures from its NASA and U.S. Missile Defense Agency business. Had revenue from U.S. Defense Department space programs and commercial customers been included, Aerojet likely would have claimed a similar position on this year’s list as it did last year.

 

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