Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Rocket Lab raises $100m - launch possible within the next two months

Extra cash from big name investors to fund new rockets.

Rocket Lab today announced it had secured further funding of US$75 million (NZ$106m) to pay for production of rockets once it is past the test stage.

The company hopes to get the first of its test launches into orbit some time within the next two months.

Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck said there had been extensive testing of ground systems at and around its launch site on the Mahia Peninsula between Gisborne and Napier.

The funding announced today was led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Data Collective, with additional investment from Promus Ventures.

Rocket Lab also attracted reinvestment from Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and Sir Stephen Tindall's investment firm K1W1. The Series D funding round - the company's fourth round of investment - increased Rocket Lab's total level of investment to US$148m. The company is now valued at more than US$1 billion ($1.4b).

Beck said the Data Collective was an "astute" space investor.

"The new funding will enable us to scale up production of Electron [rockets] to meet the continued high demand we're seeing from the growing small-satellite industry," he said.

Rocket Lab's mission is to provide frequent satellite launch opportunities, which will revolutionise the ability of satellite companies to reach orbit.

It will launch satellites for $US5m a time.

Data Collective managing partner Matt Ocko will join Rocket Lab's Board of Directors, joining existing members David Cowan from Bessemer Venture Partners, Sven Strohband from Khosla Ventures, and Scott Smith of Iridium Satellites.

"Currently, small satellite companies wait years to get on orbit, often at the mercy and schedules of larger payloads - and at extortionate costs," said Ocko.

"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."

Sir Stephen Tindall, a Rocket Lab investor since 2013, says he sees Beck as an inspired innovator who is pioneering a new path for industry in New Zealand.

"With my investments, I look at them and ask 'how much would it contribute to the economy and the employment of New Zealanders?'. Rocket Lab ticks all the boxes."

Rocket Lab will also move into a new facility in Los Angeles, where the company has been headquartered since 2013. To meet demand the American-New Zealand company is expanding its engineering and business units in both the United States and New Zealand.

Rocket Lab plans to conduct three test launches from Mahia before taking commercial cargo into space.

It will use Electron to launch imaging and communications satellites. Rocket Lab's customers use these satellites to provide services including optimised crop monitoring, improved weather reporting, internet from space, natural disaster prediction, up-to-date maritime data and search and rescue services.

Electron is an entirely carbon-composite vehicle that uses Rocket Lab's 3D-printed Rutherford engines. Electron is capable of delivering payloads of up to 150kg to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit - the target range for the high-growth constellation-satellite market.

Customers signed to fly on Electron include NASA, Planet, Spire and Moon Express.

- NZ Herald

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