When it rains, it pours. And when you’re a successful space startup, it pours money. Rocket Lab, the New Zealand-based launch provider, is still on cloud nine from having completed its first fully commercial launch this weekend — and now they get to announce a $140 million funding round that puts their valuation well above a billion.
The Series E, led by current Australian investor Future Fund, was not (as you might guess) contingent on the success of “It’s Business Time,” the Electron rocket that went up without a hitch this weekend. It was closed last month, with participation from Greenspring Associates, Khosla Ventures, Bessemer, DCVC, Promus, K1W1 and ACC.
The success of the mission no doubt comes as a relief to the whole company, not to mention its investors: The launch had been delayed for various technical reasons and, although they had every confidence in their tech, space is tricky. Not to mention expensive.
With the new $140 million in the bank, Rocket Lab is set up to kick its manufacturing facilities into high gear. I talked with CEO Peter Beck at Disrupt SF in September and he proudly discussed the infrastructure the company had built to churn out rockets in huge numbers.
In the press release announcing the raise, Beck elaborated on what the cash would be used for.
“This funding also enables the continued aggressive scale-up of Electron production to support our targeted weekly flight rate,” he said. “It will also see us build additional launch pads and begin work on three major new R&D programs.”
The entire goal of Rocket Lab, you see, is to provide cheap, frequent access to space on a completely different time frame from existing launch providers. The launch vehicle itself is “fully dialed in,” he told me. It’s just a matter of making enough of them.
That said, the R&D efforts (which I’ve asked the company about) suggest there is plenty of room for improvement still, however dialed in the rocket itself is. More efficient satellite deployment systems, less space waste (a pet issue of Beck’s) and other things offer options to sweeten the Rocket Lab deal.
Rocket Lab has also been practicing cutting down the time it takes to load up a rocket — after all, you have to have paying customers. Most launch services will have you put on a rocket perhaps a year or two down the line, but “It’s Business Time” went from zero to full payload (admittedly not a particularly large one) in three months. There ended up being delays, but in a best-case scenario they might have had people sign up their satellite for orbit and launch just a matter of weeks later. That’s the kind of quick turnaround Rocket Lab is aiming to enable.
It’s exciting to have another launch provider hitting its marks and raising money. The demand for rides to space is insatiable and driving the cost down only makes more people get into it. Sounds like Rocket Lab is going to be an enduring and unique presence in the industry for good now.