Launch provider Rocket Lab is establishing a subsidiary to handle its sensitive U.S. government business, like launching spysats and experimental military spacecraft. Rocket Lab National Security LLC will handle most of the Defense Department stuff going forward to save the rest of the company a bit of grief.
The main arm of Rocket Lab, or perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it the body, has done plenty of business with the U.S. government already, putting tests from DARPA and the National Reconnaissance Office into orbit. It’s kind of inevitable if you’re a launch provider — governments in general are big customers, and the U.S. in particular.
But wow, you want to talk about picky? Try getting a contract to launch a top-secret satellite that costs $200 million! There are all kinds of hoops you have to jump through. But when they want to launch right away, price is no object — as if you’ve just got rockets lying around!
Of course, in Rocket Lab’s case, that might well be true, but the company clearly decided that it would be smart to contain the “bureaucratic requirements” and other red tape, clearances, and so on to a specialized subsidiary that can work more closely with its national security clients and partners. It’s likely there was already a considerable firewall within the company, since commercial activity is in many ways fundamentally different from government contracts. Now it’s truly its own business unit (or perhaps that is not the correct term of art, but you know what I mean).
“Top of the list for national security is reliability and responsiveness, something we’ve delivered on across multiple missions already. With Rocket Lab National Security we’re building on this strong heritage to deliver tailored capabilities that evolve as the nation’s needs do,” said Brian Rogers, leader of the company’s government launch services department, in a press release.
Less high-touch missions for civilian agencies like NASA and NOAA would likely use the “vanilla” Rocket Lab’s services, and indeed defense projects that don’t come with too many strings attached can probably save a buck or two by going that way as well. But compared with launch costs ten years ago, it’s all a rounding error.
The launch company’s work designing spacecraft and its work on more complex missions like CAPSTONE remain part of the main company as well. Until the military starts launching space lasers to cislunar space, anyway.