Launching small satellites is a lucrative business and the market is slated to boom in the next 10 years.
New Zealand and Los Angeles-based startup, Rocket Lab, has just completed a series D round of financing of $75 million. The privately owned company is poised to launch small satellites sometime later this year.
San Francisco based venture capital fund, Data Collective, has led this financing round, with additional investments coming from Promus Ventures, existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures, an undisclosed investor, and K1W1, said Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive, Peter Beck.
The money will be used to expand manufacturing facilities in New Zealand and California of Rocket Lab’s small launch vehicle, Electron, which can place small satellites weighing upto 330 pounds (150 kg) into orbits.
Rocket Labs’ boosters feature 3D printed engines which are powered by battery-operated electric motors. Designed to be manufactured at a rate of one per week, the boosters sell for around $5 million per flight, said Beck.
The first of the three test flights of the Electron is expected to take place within weeks of building a commercial spaceport in New Zealand, with commercial flights slated to begin in the second half of the year.
The market for launching small satellites is expected to grow exponentially. Already companies, including privately owned Space Exploration Technologies and OneWeb, have raised billions from investors in order to build satellite constellations for a global internet and broadband services.
Some of these new systems are expected to have more than 1,000 satellites.
Filings with the FCC show a “massive growth in the number of systems that have put their marker down to say ‘We’re interested,’” said Carissa Bryce Christensen, chief executive of Bryce Space and Technology.
If all the projects come to fruition, it will see the launch of nearly 12,000 small satellites in the next decade said Christensen.
“Of course, nowhere near that is going to happen,” she added quickly but the numbers are an indication of the market’s potential, she said.