Life is still far from becoming the long-promised multi-planetary stage. But rest assured, it is slowly and surely going in that direction. The increase in population is taking a toll on Earth’s finite resources and experts and astronauts believe that humans must become a multi-planetary species and colonize other planets for long-term survival.
Thanks to the competitive market created by the rise of private players, the cost of space flight and access to space has decreased dramatically over the decades. The new space economy has resulted in startups competing in new segments such as space tourism and space mining to open up space access to humans. While space tourism is currently aimed at the elite wealthy due to its high price tag, it has the potential to be more accessible in the future when the costs decline.
Space travel and space launch startups are the most common, consisting mainly of somewhat mature companies, mostly in the growth stage. Space Stations is another segment of growth and early stage companies, although with a limited number of players.
Space debris management segment consists of a mix of somewhat established disruptors who are involved in debris tracking while disruptors that solely focus on debris removal are at seed or pre-seed stages. Space mining is a nascent segment, which is yet to be commercialised with several seed and pre-seed disruptors.
The industry is well funded and includes government funding as government agencies provide funds toward space technology every year, in an attempt to encourage private companies to participate in space activities.
SpaceX is the highest funded, having raised almost 7x as much as the next highest, Sierra Space. Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX is one of the most valuable startups in the US, while other notable players include billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which is listed.
California-based Rocket Lab is an end-to-end space company involved in launch services, spacecraft design services, spacecraft components, spacecraft manufacturing, and other spacecraft and on-orbit management solutions.
The company’s Electron small orbital launch vehicle is a reusable orbital-class small rocket that became the second most frequently launched US rocket and fourth most frequent launcher globally in 2021. Electron is powered by Rutherford, Rocket Lab’s electric turbopump 3D printed engines which the company claims is the world’s first 3D-printed, electric-pump-fed rocket engine. The Electron launch vehicle enables operations in national security, scientific research, space debris mitigation, Earth observation, climate monitoring, and communications. The company’s working towards making its Electron launch vehicle the world’s first reusable orbital small rocket and successfully completed the test fire of its first reused engine in September 2022 . Rocket Lab also designs and manufactures the Photon satellite platform, which has been selected to support NASA missions to the moon and Mars, as well as the first private commercial mission to Venus. As of June 2022, the company was developing the Neutron 8-ton payload class launch vehicle, designed for mega constellation deployment, deep space missions, and human spaceflight. The company has three launch pads at two launch sites, including two launch pads at a private orbital launch site located in New Zealand, and a second launch site in Virginia, US.
The company aims to vertically integrate space solutions and acquired SolAero Holdings, a supplier of space solar power products and precision aerospace structures, for USD 80 million in December 2021. Prior to that, in 4Q21, it acquired Planetary Systems Corporation, a manufacturer of satellite separation systems, for USD 42 million in cash and Space Software Company Advanced Solutions, Inc for USD 40 million.
Key customers and partnerships
As of end 2021, the company has delivered 109 spacecraft to space across 20 orbital missions for commercial and government customers. Its customers include the US Department of Defense, NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and a number of domestic and international commercial spacecraft operators including Blacksky Holdings, Canon, Kinéis, Capella Space, Planet, OHB Group, and Synspective. The company also won a contract to launch orbital debris removal demonstration mission for Astroscale.
Funding and financials
The company recorded USD 62.2 million in revenue in 2021 (up 77% YoY) mainly due to the USD 21.2 million increase in space systems revenue stemming from strong organic space system products and services and initial contribution from acquisitions that closed in the fourth quarter of 2021. Launch services revenue also increased 18% YoY, mainly due to higher content per launch service agreement for the year. The company’s backlog increased from USD 82 million as of end 2020 to USD 241 million as of end 2021.
In August 2021, Rocket Lab completed the merger with Vector Acquisition Corporation and commenced trading on the Nasdaq Capital Market under “RKLB” becoming a publicly traded end-to-end space company. Rocket Lab received gross proceeds of USD 777 million from Vector’s trust account and concurrent private investment in public equity (PIPE) financing. Funds were used to speed growth in the space systems market, fund the development of the new reusable, 8-ton payload class Neutron rocket, and support further organic and inorganic growth in the space systems ecosystem and potential future space applications initiatives to deliver data and services from space. The company also received a USD 24.4 million grant from the US Space Force in September 2021.
Space travel and space launch:
Space debris management:
Leading aerospace and defense companies (such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing) have had an active involvement in space activities for over 50 years. More recently, aerospace and national security contractor Sierra Nevada, which engaged in space activities, spun off its space division in 2021 into a separate entity, Sierra Space, to reflect the growth potential it foresees for the space segment.
While a majority of incumbents are from the aerospace and defense industry, there have also been exceptions such as Obayashi Corporation, which is a Japanese construction giant that entered the next-gen space segment through the proposal of a space elevator, slated for completion in 2050.
Almost all major incumbents engage in in-house developments, while Thales Group engages in space activities through a strategic partnership (called Space Alliance) with Italian aerospace company Leonardo.
No investor data is available