Satellite launch startup Rocket Lab raises $75m at $1b valuation

Rocket Lab will be using the funds to manufacture its small launch vehicle called Electron



Image: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab announced on Tuesday that it has raised $75 million in a Series D round led by Data Collective, with Promus Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla, and K1W1 also contributing to the round.

The latest round brings the total amount raised by the startup to $148 million and its valuation to more than $1 billion, according to Rocket Lab.

The funding will be used to expand manufacturing facilities in California and New Zealand for Rocket Lab's small launch vehicle, known as Electron.

The vehicle, which uses Rocket Lab's 3D-printed Rutherford engines for its main propulsion system, is designed to put satellites weighing about 150 kilograms into orbits 500 kilometres above Earth.

Rocket Lab's customers will be able to use the satellites in space to provide services such as optimised crop monitoring, improved weather reporting, "internet from space", natural disaster prediction, and search and rescue services, the startup said.

According to Rocket Lab, Electron can be manufactured at a rate of one per week and will sell for $5 million per flight.

Rocket Lab recently shipped the first Electron to its site on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand and will conduct three test launches before taking its commercial cargo into space in the second half of 2017.

"Currently, small satellite companies wait years to get on orbit, often at the mercy and schedules of larger payloads -- and at extortionate costs," said Matt Ocko, co-managing partner at Data Collective, who is joining Rocket Lab's board of directors.

"With Rocket Lab, this huge backlog now has access to a high-frequency, quality launch service that will take customers where they want to go, when they want to fly.

"The commercial and humanitarian applications this will open up are endless, and it should unleash a torrent of financing for space innovation."

Rocket Labs has signed on customers such as NASA, Planet, Spire, and Moon Express.

While the market for launching satellites is currently small, it is expected to grow in the upcoming years, with billions of dollars having already been invested in private companies like SpaceX and OneWeb Satellites.

Towards the end of last year, Elon Musk's SpaceX detailed plans to launch about 800 satellites as a backbone for a global broadband service. Future additions will expand the network to 4,425 satellites, each weighing 386 kilograms. The satellites will orbit at an altitude of 1,150 kilometres, allowing it to cover a 1,060 kilometre radius on Earth.

Earlier this month, OneWeb Satellites -- a joint venture between internet provider OneWeb and space company Airbus -- announced that it will begin the construction of an $85 million high-volume satellite manufacturing factory in Exploration Park, Florida, near NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The first order will include the production of 900 communications satellites for OneWeb's low Earth orbit constellation.

"This facility is a pivotal step toward our mission to build a new global knowledge infrastructure, accessible to everyone," said OneWeb founder and executive chairman Greg Wyler. "With this facility, we will be able to continuously iterate on the design of our satellites, launch new satellites within hours of completion, and create significant opportunity in the US."