Rocket Lab acquires SolAero Holdings for $80M to boost space solar cell production

Rocket Lab is on a mission to vertically integrate space solutions. On Tuesday the launch and space systems company announced the close of a deal to acquire SolAero Holdings, a supplier of space solar power products and precision aerospace structures, for $80 million in cash.

Buying SolAero, a 24-year-old, New Mexico-based company, means Rocket Lab now has another key supplier in-house for its satellite manufacturing. At the same time, having access to Rocket Lab’s resources will give SolAero the manufacturing capability needed to boost high-volume production and scale, meaning it can better supply other customers, too.

The acquisition helps Rocket Lab’s long term vision by supporting the company to capture more of the space market, Morgan Bailey, director of communications, told TechCrunch.

“As an example, Rocket Lab may not be launching a specific spacecraft with Electron or Neutron, but by supplying solar panels or other components such as star trackers, reaction wheels, flight software, separation systems, we’re still able to capture revenue and play a role in the mission,” said Bailey. “Naturally, SolAero technology will also be incorporated into Rocket Lab’s own line of Photon spacecraft, further supporting our strategy of vertical integration.”

The deal was originally announced, pending certain closing conditions, in December 2021, just a few months after Rocket Lab announced the acquisition of Colorado-based Advanced Solutions, Inc. (ASI), a space software company, for $40 million. The ASI acquisition aimed to help Rocket Lab build out its Space Systems division and achieve its goal of becoming an “end-to-end” space company, one that spans spacecraft manufacture, satellite subsystems, flight software, ground operations and launch, according to the company.

The SolAero merger also follows the acquisitions of Planetary Systems Corporation in December 2021, a spacecraft separation systems company, and Sinclair Interplanetary in April 2020, a satellite components manufacturer.

“SolAero is a highly complementary addition to Rocket Lab’s vertically integrated business model, enabling us to deliver complete space mission solutions for our customers,” said Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck in a statement. “With more than 1,000 successful missions under their belt, the team at SolAero have enabled trailblazing missions, providing space solar power solutions for the James Webb Space Telescope, and missions on Mars including InSight and Ingenuity.”

The Mars Insight Lander was the largest solar array ever deployed on the surface of Mars, and Ingenuity was the helicopter that successfully flew on Mars in April last year.

SolAero’s products have supplied power to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and several Cygnus Cargo Resupply Missions to the International Space Station. The company has also provided power to OneWeb’s broadband constellation, and it has been selected to supply Solar Power Modules for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans, which should enable future missions to Mars.

SolAero’s team of 425 will be joining Rocket Lab, bringing the company’s total headcount to more than 1,100 employees across its facilities in California, Virginia, Colorado, Maryland, Toronto, New Zealand and now Albuquerque. The team will continue to be led by President and CEO Brad Clevenger.

Update: This article was updated to include an additional quote and information from Rocket Lab.