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Orbital Isn't Lost In Space


Inside Wall Street

ORBITAL ISN'T LOST IN SPACE

Investment manager Joan Lappin has latched onto a stock that's in orbit. She purchased a load of shares of Orbital Sciences, which got government approval on Oct. 24 to launch a satellite for worldwide paging services. That means, says Lappin, that Orbital can now jump-start a satellite system that will offer cheap two-way paging and messaging services at any point on the globe.

Orbital is a space-technology company that, among other things, makes low-earth orbit launch systems and instruments placed aboard satellites, as well as space-based digital communications systems. Currently, its biggest customers are the U.S. Air Force and NASA. But with the recent government clearance, more commercial customers will come up, Lappin says. Already, the company's order backlog has jumped from $190 million to $310 million this year, she notes.

"The story about Orbital is fantastic," says Prudential Securities' Gary Reich, a veteran aerospace industry analyst. The company, he says, is an "emerging giant" in aerospace, space-based communications, and ecological monitoring. Although not for the faint-of-heart, Reich says, the stock, trading at 18, should hit 50 in a year. By the very nature of its business, Orbital is speculative because launch vehicles have been known to explode at times. And satellites, he adds, can get lost in the cosmos. Orbital is already making money, notes Reich. Earnings will jump to 70 cents next year, he says, and to $1.20 in 1996. That's up from 1994's estimated 33 cents and 1993's 34 cents.GENE G. MARCIAL


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