Rocket Lab overnight reported a big jump in revenue, a much fatter pipeline of work, and US$45 million ($69m) in financial support from the US state of Virginia - which will be home to the production plant and launch for the much larger, crew-cable Neutron rocket, due to launch in 2024.
The original plan was for one of the re-usable rockets to be launched by mid-decade. Now, with Russia's Soyuz sidelined by the Ukraine crisis, chief executive Peter Beck says that could now be expanded to three Neutrons in 2024.
Rocket Lab shares were down 3.7 per cent to US$9.19 in late Nasdaq trading, however, caught in the general tech pullback and market downturn as the Ukrainian crisis deepened.
The firm said its forward-bookings for launches and space services had swelled from US$82m at the end of 2020 to US$241m by December 31 this year (this last day of its financial year).
Its backlog now stands at US$545m, thanks in large part to a US$143m contract, announced this week, to design and manufacture 17 half-tonne satellites for North American communications network operator GlobalStar, via a subcontract for Toronto-listed MDA.
Rocket Lab reported full-year revenue that grew 420 per cent to US$62.2m as the pandemic crimped its launch schedule in 12 months to December 31, 2021 - but to a much lesser degree than in 2020.
And although the firm squeaked to a US$2.7m net profit in the fourth quarter, as its launch schedule resumed in earnest following Covid interruptions, its full-year net loss widened from US$55m to US$117m.
Rocket Lab said the pickup in revenue would continue, with first-quarter 2022 revenue between US$42m and US$47m, with an operating earnings loss of US$3m to $5m. Ahead of its IPO - which added around US$750m to its coffers - Rocket Lab said it expected to break even in 2023.
Around 11,000 Kiwis participated in Rocket Lab's IPO through retail platforms including Stake.
Stake CEO Matt Leibowitz told the Herald that while Rocket Lab's stock price is sitting below the level it listed at (US$10.00), the revenue increase and big jump in forward bookings were positives, as was the resumption of missions after a pandemic-hit first half.
"In a year that was disrupted by Covid, they'll be chuffed to still be heading upward off the back of six missions in the final quarter of 2021," Leibowitz said.
The CEO said Rocket Lab had been Stake's third most-traded stock since its August IPO.
"Space is an area of intense interest for investors on Stake, and Rocket Lab wants to be an end-to-end space provider. Already, 38 per cent of launches in 2021 had Rocket Lab technology involved, and they'll want that number to grow. If they can pull it off, they may just blast off into the stratosphere."
The Kiwi-American company confirmed the Neutron would launch from Rocket Lab's new Launch Complex 2, which sits within Nasa's Wallops Island facility in Virginia, which houses the US space agency's Mid-Atlantic Spaceport.
Rocket Lab also confirmed it will build a new 250,000 square foot (22,225sq m) Neutron mission control and production facility nearby, which it says will create 250 jobs.
Virginia's state government is chipping a total of US$45m ($67m) toward the project, subject to the approval of its General Assembly, a Rocket Lab spokeswoman confirms. That represents the second dollop of US for Neutron after the US Air Force's new Space Force division put US$24.35m toward development of the new rocket's upper stage.
It's not a situation where New Zealand could have outbid Virginia to host the Neutron facility, should the government have been so inclined. Beck said earlier that a US location was chosen for Launch Complex 2 for two reasons. One, US Government customers Nasa and the Department of Defense wanted a US launch site. And secondly, New Zealand just didn't have the industrial heft.
"To give you a sense of the scale, if we took all the liquid oxygen that's produced in New Zealand, we'd only fill half the tank, let alone all the other kinds of logistics that are associated with these very, very, large launch vehicles," Beck said.
The Virginia build comes on the heels of Rocket Lab's announcement it will quadruple its facilities in Colorado - home of recent acquisition ASI - to 55,000 square feet.
Following a series of four sizeable acquisitions - the most recent being a US$80m deal to buy SolAero in New Mexico. With that deal, Rocket Lab took on 425 new personnel, meaning a majority of its staff (which now totals 1100) are n North America for the first time.
But Rocket Lab is also expanding in New Zealand, as it graphically illustrated yesterday when it staged its first launch from its new Pad B at Launch Complex 1 in Mahia.
Beck says Rocket Lab will continue to stage a majority of its missions from Mahia, given NZ's light aerospace regulatory regime, and our relatively empty skies and shipping lanes.