Launch Notices: Rocket Lab Missions | Launch Calendars
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Rocket Lab Launch: Ready, Aim, PREFIRE

Mission name: Ready, Aim, PREFIRE
Launch Vehicle: Electron
Launch Site: Launch Complex 1, Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
NZST Launch Window: Opens 19:15, May 22, 2024
UTC Launch Window: 07:15, May 22, 2024
ET Launch Window: 03:15, May 22, 2024
PT Launch Window: 00:15, May 22, 2024
Mission Overview: ‘Ready, Aim, PREFIRE’ is the first of two back-to-back Electron launches to deploy NASA’s PREFIRE mission. The mission aims to measure heat lost from Earth’s polar regions to improve climate models. The satellites will be deployed to a 525km circular orbit and will focus on thermal infrared radiation measurements. This will be Rocket Lab’s 48th Electron launch and its sixth launch of 2024.
Press Kit: PDF Download
Live Stream: rocketlabusa.com/livestream

For Additional Updates: Follow Rocket Lab’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Rocket Lab Ready, Aim, PREFIRE Mission Patch

Podcast: Rocket Lab's Peter Beck and Adam Spice Discuss Neutron, Space Systems, and Strategy

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck and CFO Adam Spice continue the post-earnings release podcast rounds with an appearance on Dave G Investing. Some key takeaways from both:

Peter Beck

  • Building a rocket is a challenging process, with much of the work going into infrastructure, factories, and test facilities, not just the rocket itself.
  • Design for Neutron prioritizes affordability and reusability, with tradeoffs made to optimize performance and cost.
  • Block upgrades for Neutron will likely follow a similar path to Electron, focusing on incremental improvements rather than major redesigns.
  • Rocket Lab’s composite structures are a core strength, and the company has organized a new business unit to leverage this capability.
  • The space industry is at an inflection point, with vertically integrated companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab positioned to become the dominant players in the future while existing primes are stepping back.
  • Rocket Lab is producing more than 2,000 reaction wheels this year.
  • Beck on the minimal impact that an Electron customer delay has on revenue: “Just so people understand that from a financial standpoint we collect 90% of all of the the launch contract prior to ignition so there’s generally only 10% of the contract left when we ignite the rocket and as the rocket is being built you know we’re collecting against milestones along the way so there’s never any like rocket sitting there that that owes us a heap of money.”

Adam Spice

  • Neutron’s margin profile is expected to improve more quickly than Electron’s due to its reusability being designed from the start.
  • The investment in Neutron’s manufacturing facilities, such as the composite facility in Maryland, can benefit other parts of the business.
  • The Space Systems side of the business is less capital-intensive than the rocket side, and Rocket Lab has invested in its manufacturing footprint and systems to enable scalability.
  • Government business, particularly opportunities like the Space Development Agency (SDA) platform, represents a significant growth opportunity for the company.
  • Sinclair’s reaction wheel production has scaled from 150 a year to thousands since being acquired by Rocket Lab, creating significant opportunities for increased margin.

Both Beck and Spice emphasized Rocket Lab’s long-term vision of becoming an end-to-end space company, with vertical integration and the ability to provide complete space-based solutions to customers. They additionally highlighted the company’s focus on execution, delivery, and transparency as key differentiators in the evolving space industry.

Podcast: Peter Beck on Q1 Earnings, Neutron, and Rocket Lab's Vertical Integration Strategy

In a recent appearance on the Vince is Bullish podcast, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck discussed the company’s Q1 earnings and provided insights into its future plans and the space industry as a whole. Here are the key takeaways from the interview:

  • Launch manifest flexibility: Beck emphasized that launch delays and rescheduling are common in the industry and that Rocket Lab’s diversified business helps mitigate the financial impact of such changes.
  • Neutron rocket contracts: Rocket Lab plans to sign Neutron launch contracts once the rocket is close to its first flight, ensuring they can meet customer demands and secure the best pricing.
  • Neutron’s target customers: The rocket is designed to serve a wide range of customers, including mega-constellation operators, government agencies, and other commercial entities.
  • “I fully predict that 50% of Neutron launches will be other people’s and 50% of Neutron launches will be ourselves.”
  • Vertical integration and acquisitions: Rocket Lab pursues vertical integration when the supply chain is too slow or expensive. Acquisitions are made to secure strategically important capabilities or to create synergies with existing business lines.
  • Competing with SpaceX: Beck believes that the space industry will be dominated by companies with their own launch capabilities, like SpaceX and Rocket Lab. He sees Neutron as a medium-class launcher complementing Electron, serving different market segments than Starship.
  • Future vision: Rocket Lab aims to become an end-to-end space company, providing not just launch services and satellite manufacturing but also complete space-based solutions and services to customers.

Beck’s podcast appearance highlights Rocket Lab’s ambitious long-term vision and strategic positioning within the rapidly evolving space industry. Through vertical integration, strategic acquisitions, and the development of the Neutron rocket, the company is actively working towards becoming an end-to-end space solutions provider. Beck’s insights reveal his unwavering commitment to playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of spaceflight, as he lays the groundwork to capitalize on the limitless opportunities that lie ahead in the space sector and positions Rocket Lab to be a multi-generational space company.

Rocket Lab Drops Several Archimedes Engine Updates

Rocket Lab has completed the first full assembly of its Archimedes engine, a 3D printed, reusable rocket engine designed for the company’s Neutron medium lift launch vehicle. Here are some key facts about the Archimedes engine:

  • Powered by liquid oxygen and methane, using an oxidizer rich staged combustion cycle
  • Capable of producing 165,000 lbf (733 kilonewtons) per engine, with a combined total of 1,450,000 lbf on Neutron’s first stage (nine engines)
  • Designed for maximum reusability, with a minimum target of up to 20 launches per engine
  • 3D printed critical parts include turbo pump housings, pre-burner and main chamber components, valve housings, and engine structural components
  • Intensive test campaign has begun at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi
  • Production of subsequent engines is ongoing in parallel with the test campaign
  • Full-rate production will take place at Rocket Lab’s Engine Development Complex in Long Beach, California

The Archimedes engine test and development campaign is a key driver for Neutron’s first launch, which is now expected to occur no earlier than mid-2025. Rocket Lab has also completed carbon composite flight structures for Neutron’s fairing panels, Stage 1 and Stage 2 tanks, and the reusable Stage 1 structure. Infrastructure development also continues at Neutron’s dedicated launch site at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Archimedes: February vs. May

One of the reasons I aggregate the Neutron slides in posts like this one is that it helps quickly assess the scale and pace of development. Here’s a great example showing the state of the Archimedes engine in the late February investor update and then again today. That is a massive difference in just over two months.

February 27, 2024

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update

And May 6, 2024

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update

Rocket Lab Analysis Worth Tracking

If you track the Rocket Lab community on Twitter you have likely already run across detailed analysis of the company by @Tim_X94. If not, I highly recommend that you give some of his more substantial posts a read and give him a follow. Looking beyond the exciting “space stuff”, he dives deep into Rocket Lab’s strategic positioning, capital efficiency, and relentless execution - themes that resonate with my own analysis of the company.

I reached out to him today and asked him to round up a few highlights for this post:

  • TIm discusses Rocket Lab’s acquisition of a former Lockheed Martin facility in Middle River, Maryland, which will serve as a key component in the company’s vertical integration strategy. The facility, called the Space Structures Complex, will not only be used for Neutron rocket production but also for manufacturing satellite constellations, such as the potential SDA PWSA Tranche 3 orders and other large-scale contracts similar to the MDA Globalstar deal. The author emphasizes that the close proximity of the facility to the Neutron launch pad in Wallops will significantly improve Rocket Lab’s supply chain, logistics, and launch cadence in the long term, underpinning the company’s end-to-end space solutions approach.

  • Tim highlights Rocket Lab’s strategic decision to utilize NASA’s Stennis Space Center’s A-3 Test Stand for testing their Archimedes engine, which was built by NASA for $349 million but never used until now. This move demonstrates Rocket Lab’s capital efficiency and execution, as they secured a favorable lease rate and accelerated the development timeline for the Neutron rocket, giving them a competitive edge over their rivals, such as Relativity Space, who are investing heavily in redeveloping older test stands.

  • This thread digs into why Rocket Lab’s private launch site in Mahia, New Zealand, provides a significant competitive advantage over U.S. small launch competitors, as it offers superior flexibility, high launch cadence capabilities, and lower labor costs, all of which are protected by the regulatory moat of ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), making it difficult for competitors to replicate Rocket Lab’s launch infrastructure.

  • Tim asserts that Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket has the necessary ingredients to maintain its position as the low-cost small launch leader in 2030 and beyond, particularly for U.S. single missions with payloads under 300kg, due to its competitive launch costs, high cadence capabilities, unique regulatory advantages, and lower labor costs in New Zealand, while facing more competition in the small constellation launch market from larger payload capacity rockets.

  • In this series of tweets, Tim argues that while SpaceX’s Starship is expected to dominate the launch vehicle market with its capabilities and low launch costs, it will not make Rocket Lab’s Neutron obsolete in the short or long term due to Neutron’s competitive launch costs, the need for multiple launch providers to address the current shortage, and the U.S. government’s desire to avoid relying solely on Elon Musk’s companies for critical space infrastructure.

  • Tim argues that Rocket Lab’s strategic focus on providing bespoke turnkey solutions, including launch, satellite manufacturing, and operation services, for the U.S. government’s defense programs will allow the company to significantly grow its business and differentiate itself from competitors like SpaceX.

  • Tim details why he believes that Rocket Lab is poised to win significant U.S. government contracts for the Space Development Agency’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (SDA PWSA) Tranche 3 satellites due to its vertical integration, ability to meet schedules, and in-house satellite bus manufacturing capabilities, while legacy defense prime contractors face supply chain issues and challenges adapting to the new paradigm of small satellite constellations.

U.S. and New Zealand Strengthen Space Cooperation with Inaugural Bilateral Space Dialogue

On April 12, 2024, the United States and New Zealand held their first bilateral Space Dialogue in Washington, D.C., marking a significant milestone in the 150th anniversary of their space relationship. The key outcomes of the dialogue include:

  • Emphasis on the growth of the commercial space sector and the changing role of government in commercial space activities
  • Intent to continue cooperation on issues such as launch, payloads, and space situational awareness
  • Potential for expanded cooperation on policy and regulatory interoperability related to commercial space
  • Discussions on opportunities to advance scientific education, research, and space cooperation
  • Recognition of New Zealand’s geographic advantages in enabling frequent and responsive launches for U.S. industry and government agencies which added “strategic resilience” to launch capacity
  • Signing of an updated Memorandum of Cooperation between the New Zealand Space Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration
  • Announcement of the first round of joint research projects between New Zealand research institutes and NASA centers, focusing on Earth observation
  • Appreciation for the internship opportunities provided by NASA and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to high-achieving New Zealand students
  • Launch of MethaneSAT, a unique partnership involving government, non-profit, academic, and commercial organizations from both countries

The dialogue also included a commercial roundtable, co-chaired by the New Zealand Minister for Space and the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce, which highlighted existing partnerships and opportunities for stronger bilateral cooperation between the two countries' commercial space sectors. You can read the full statement on the U.S. State Department’s website.

Space Force Selects Rocket Lab And True Anomaly For Tactically Responsive Mission

Rocket Lab and True Anomaly were just selected for an extremely cool tactically responsive mission by Space Systems Command. Per Rocket Lab’s press release the two teams will demonstrate the capability to develop space vehicles with rendezvous and proximity operation (RPO) functionality, as well as establish corresponding command and control centers for their operation in a mission called VICTUS HAZE:

Once the spacecraft build is complete, Rocket Lab will be entered into a Hot Standby Phase awaiting further direction. Once the exercise begins, Rocket Lab will be given notice to launch the spacecraft into a target orbit. After reaching orbit, the spacecraft will be rapidly commissioned and readied for operations. Rocket Lab will configure a Pioneer class spacecraft bus to meet the unique requirements of the VICTUS HAZE mission and launch the spacecraft on Electron from either Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, NZ or Launch Complex 2 in Wallops, VA. Once on orbit, the spacecraft will conduct a variety of dynamic space operations to demonstrate SDA characterization capabilities with True Anomaly’s spacecraft, the Jackal autonomous orbital vehicle.

Rocket Lab’s Pioneer spacecraft was previously used to support the Varda mission.

Photo of a Rocket Lab Pioneer Spacecraft

True Anomaly’s AI-enabled Jackal spacecraft is really interesting as well:

Screenshot of Jackal autonomous orbital vehicle (AOV)

Ars Technica has a comprehensive piece up with a more detailed profile of the exercise:

“When another nation puts an asset up into space and we don’t quite know what that asset is, we don’t know what its intent is, we don’t know what its capabilities are, we need the ability to go up there and figure out what this thing is,” said Gen. Michael Guetlein, the Space Force’s vice chief of space operations.

This is what the Space Force wants to demonstrate with Victus Haze. For this mission, True Anomaly’s spacecraft will launch first, posing as a satellite from a potential adversary, like China or Russia. Rocket Lab will have a satellite on standby to go up and inspect True Anomaly’s spacecraft and will launch it when the Space Force gives the launch order.

“Pretty sporty,” said Even Rogers, co-founder and CEO of True Anomaly.

Then, if all goes according to plan, the two spacecraft will switch roles, with True Anomaly’s Jackal satellite actively maneuvering around Rocket Lab’s satellite. According to the Space Force, True Anomaly and Rocket Lab will deliver their spacecraft no later than the fall of 2025.

There’s another interesting aspect to this mission mentioned in a Payload article:

Planners expect to increase complexity to the point where one vehicle will actively avoid being characterized. The goal isn’t just to demonstrate the technology, but also develop the tactics and procedures for these kinds of missions.

The demonstration is a collaboration between the Defense Innovation Unit, Space Safari acquisition program, and SpaceWERX.

Rocket Lab Takes Significant Step Towards Reusable Electron Rocket

A Recovered Electron Booster Floating in the Ocean.

Rocket Lab, a leading small satellite launch provider, has announced a major milestone in its quest to make its Electron rocket the world’s first reusable small orbital launch vehicle. Here are the key points:

  • A previously flown Electron first stage from the January 2024 “Four of a Kind” mission has been returned to Rocket Lab’s production line for final acceptance testing and eventual reflight.
  • The stage has already passed rigorous tests, including tank pressurization, helium leak checks, and carbon fiber structural testing.
  • Rocket Lab has been successfully recovering Electron first stages from previous missions, returning them to Earth under parachutes and collecting them from the ocean.

The company has made iterative modifications across multiple recovery missions to perfect the recovery process, including:

  • Ensuring the rocket’s carbon composite structure survives the intense heat and forces of reentry
  • Refining the parachute system for reliable deployment and smooth deceleration
  • Improving telemetry and tracking for rapid stage location and collection
  • Successfully launching a previously flown Rutherford engine

If the stage passes final acceptance and qualification testing, Rocket Lab will consider opportunities for reflying it in the new year.

This milestone marks an exciting step forward in Rocket Lab’s efforts to increase launch cadence and reduce costs through the reuse of Electron’s first stage. The payload for the potential reflight will be announced following the completion of final testing.

Rocket Lab Enters The Carbon Composite Manufacturing Business

Rocket Lab has incubated and acquired some of the best carbon composite manufacturing talent in the world, acquired some of the most expensive and capable tooling in the world for pennies on the dollar, and is now maximizing that investment by entering the carbon composite manufacturing business.

Screenshot of Rocket Lab Tweet

This is a no-brainer and typical of Rocket Lab’s persistent resource efficiency. The personnel and equipment in this side of the business are extremely rare and valuable and the last thing you want is either of them sitting idle. This also continues to offset the risk posed by the lumpy launch side of the business which is always a good thing.

Rocket Lab's Acquisition Strategy: Insights from Previous Acquisitions

While I have a solid understanding of Rocket Lab’s approach to M&A, I thought it would be interesting to feed AI several of the company’s acquisition announcements and ask it to find common themes that might inform their approach to future acquisitions. Here’s the result:

New Space Blog
Examine the press releases from Rocket Lab regarding their acquisition of smaller companies. Specifically, focus on the instances where Rocket Lab has either fully acquired these companies or purchased substantial parts of their operations. Craft a blog post that identifies and outlines the recurring themes from these press releases in bullet points. Further, analyze these themes to predict the nature of Rocket Lab’s potential future acquisitions, providing insights into why these particular types of companies might be targeted next.

Claude 3 Opus
Rocket Lab, a leading launch and space systems company, has been on an acquisition spree in recent years. By examining their press releases regarding the acquisition of smaller companies, several recurring themes emerge:

  • Vertical Integration: Rocket Lab has consistently targeted companies that complement their existing capabilities, allowing them to streamline their production process and offer comprehensive space solutions. The acquisitions of SolAero (solar power products and precision aerospace structures), Advanced Solutions, Inc. (mission software, simulation, and GNC solutions), and Planetary Systems Corporation (spacecraft separation systems) all contribute to Rocket Lab’s goal of vertical integration.

  • Strengthening Space Systems Portfolio: Rocket Lab has focused on acquiring companies that enhance their Space Systems division. The acquisitions of Sinclair Interplanetary, Advanced Solutions, Inc., and Planetary Systems Corporation have all brought valuable expertise and products to Rocket Lab’s spacecraft hardware solutions.

  • Leveraging Manufacturing Capabilities: Rocket Lab has strategically acquired companies with advanced manufacturing facilities and skilled teams. The acquisition of SailGP Technologies' manufacturing complex in Warkworth, New Zealand, and the purchase of Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach facility both demonstrate Rocket Lab’s commitment to expanding their production capabilities.

  • Retaining Talent: In their acquisitions, Rocket Lab has prioritized retaining the talented teams from the acquired companies. This is evident in the SailGP Technologies acquisition, where over 90% of the New Zealand-based staff were retained, and in the integration of teams from Advanced Solutions, Inc. and Planetary Systems Corporation.

Based on these recurring themes, we can predict the nature of Rocket Lab’s potential future acquisitions:

  1. Companies with unique space technologies: Rocket Lab will likely continue to target companies that offer innovative technologies or products that can be integrated into their Space Systems division. This could include companies specializing in advanced sensors, propulsion systems, or communication technologies for satellites.

  2. Firms with specialized manufacturing capabilities: As Rocket Lab continues to scale up production of their Electron rocket and develop the larger Neutron rocket, they may seek out companies with specialized manufacturing capabilities in advanced materials, such as composites or 3D printing, to further streamline their production processes.

  3. Startups with talented teams: Rocket Lab recognizes the value of skilled personnel and may target startups with experienced teams in aerospace engineering, software development, or other critical areas. Acquiring these companies allows Rocket Lab to quickly add expertise and accelerate their growth.

  4. Companies with strategic locations: Rocket Lab may consider acquiring companies based in locations that offer strategic advantages, such as proximity to key customers, access to specialized supply chains, or favorable regulatory environments for space activities.

By continuing to acquire companies that align with their vertical integration strategy, strengthen their Space Systems portfolio, expand their manufacturing capabilities, and bring in talented teams, Rocket Lab is positioning itself to be a major player in the rapidly growing space industry. As they continue to scale up and take on more ambitious projects, such as the development of the Neutron rocket, strategic acquisitions will likely remain a key part of their growth strategy.

New Space Blog
Rocket Lab is making significant investments in the development of their Neutron Rocket but recently secured over $300 million in an offering that they have signaled might be leveraged for multiple acquisitions. Given the extra cash on hand, but also the desire to perform multiple acquisitions, what does this say about the potential size and nature of the companies that might be acquired?

Claude 3 Opus
Considering Rocket Lab’s recent cash infusion and their intention to leverage it for multiple acquisitions, we can infer several key points about the potential size and nature of the companies they might target:

  1. Smaller to mid-sized companies: Given the desire to perform multiple acquisitions, Rocket Lab is likely to target smaller to mid-sized companies rather than large, established firms. This approach allows them to spread the cash across several acquisitions, diversifying their investment and reducing risk.

  2. Strategic fit: Rocket Lab will likely prioritize companies that align with their strategic goals, particularly those that support the development of the Neutron rocket. This could include companies specializing in advanced materials, propulsion technologies, or other critical components for the Neutron project.

  3. Complementary capabilities: As seen in their previous acquisitions, Rocket Lab will likely target companies that offer complementary capabilities to their existing operations. This could include firms with expertise in areas such as software development, guidance systems, or satellite technologies that can be integrated into Rocket Lab’s Space Systems division.

  4. Affordable valuations: With a limited budget for multiple acquisitions, Rocket Lab may focus on companies with affordable valuations relative to their strategic value. This could include early-stage startups or companies with strong potential but limited market traction.

  5. Talent acquisition: Rocket Lab may also use these acquisitions as an opportunity to bring in talented teams with specialized skills and experience. Smaller companies often have highly skilled personnel who can contribute significantly to Rocket Lab’s research and development efforts.

  6. Geographic expansion: Rocket Lab might consider acquiring companies based in strategic locations to expand their geographic footprint, access new markets, or tap into local talent pools.

In summary, Rocket Lab’s cash infusion and desire to perform multiple acquisitions suggest that they will likely target smaller to mid-sized companies that offer strategic fit, complementary capabilities, affordable valuations, and skilled talent. These acquisitions will probably focus on supporting the development of the Neutron rocket and expanding Rocket Lab’s Space Systems division, while also potentially enabling geographic expansion. By carefully selecting their acquisition targets, Rocket Lab can maximize the impact of their investment and strengthen their position in the rapidly evolving space industry.

Peter Beck On Building Beautiful Things

Rocket Lab Electron Rocket

Peter Beck, CEO and CTO of Rocket Lab, discussed the company’s innovative culture, future plans, and his advice for aspiring space entrepreneurs in an interview with Gizmodo. Some key points:

  • Rocket Lab fosters innovation by rapidly prototyping and testing ideas, taking bold swings at transformative technologies like 3D-printed rocket engines, and focusing on building aesthetically beautiful products.
  • Beck has established Rocket Lab as an end-to-end space company, combining launch capabilities with satellite manufacturing and operation, catering to customers who want turnkey space solutions.
  • Critical emerging space technologies include internet from space, direct mobile connectivity, and pharmaceutical manufacturing in space. Rocket Lab is involved in all these and other areas through its diverse offerings.
  • The biggest potential space innovation lies in propulsion technology, moving away from conventional chemical rockets to enable more substantial progress.
  • 3D printing is crucial for Rocket Lab, enabling rapid design iterations and manufacturing geometries impossible with traditional techniques.
  • Beck’s advice to entrepreneurs: Focus on developing technologies that address real market needs and have scalability, rather than niche solutions or “cool” tech without demand.

It’s very technical and process focused but this round-table discussion featuring Myles Keefer, Rocket Lab’s Manager of Additive Manufacturing reinforces a lot of the points made by Beck. The engineering philosophy of the company is unique and, in my opinion, underappreciated. It’s more Apple than SpaceX but it’s also informed by an unrelenting focus on efficiency and practicality.

Varda Lands $90M In Series B Funding

This is a very encouraging development, not just for Varda (and Rocket Lab) but also for the potential growth of space manufacturing overall:

Astronauts have been conducting protein crystallization experiments in space for decades on the International Space Station and before that, the Space Shuttle.

But the business case for expanding this research has never materialized — until now. This is for a few different reasons, Asparouhov explained: because of the crew, there are significant limitations to the types of solvents or other materials you can bring onboard the ISS; there are constraints related to intellectual property for work that happens on the station; and pharmaceutical lab equipment designed for use in-space was generally lacking in sophistication compared to the terrestrial versions.

But much has changed, especially in the space industry. Part of the reason Varda is possible today is due to the availability of regular, low-cost rideshare launches from SpaceX and Rocket Lab’s innovations in satellite bus manufacturing. Even beyond these external partnerships, the startup has made significant headway in its own right, as the success of the first mission showed: Their reentry capsule appears to have performed flawlessly and the experiment to reformulate the HIV medicine ritonavir was executed without a hitch, it says.

Varda and Rocket Lab will launch capsule #2 later this year. Keep an eye on this relationship. It will be interesting to see how it develops now that Varda is on firmer footing.

Rocket Lab Schedules 2024 Q1 Earnings Call

The webcast is scheduled for May 6, 2024 05:00 PM ET.

Rocket Lab Launch: Beginning Of The Swarm

Mission name: Beginning Of The Swarm
Launch Vehicle: Electron
Launch Site: Launch Complex 1
NZT Launch Window: 10:00, April 24, 2024
UTC Launch Window: 22:00, April 23, 2024
ET Launch Window: 18:00, April 23, 2024
PT Launch Window: 15:00, April 23, 2024
Mission Overview: Rocket Lab’s ‘Beginning Of The Swarm’ mission is set to launch from New Zealand during a 14-day window starting on April 24th. The Electron rocket will carry two satellites for separate customers: NEONSAT-1, an Earth observation satellite developed by SaTReC and KAIST, and NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3).

NEONSAT-1, the primary payload, is designed to monitor natural disasters along the Korean Peninsula using high-resolution optical imagery and artificial intelligence. The secondary payload, NASA’s ACS3, will demonstrate new materials and deployable structures for solar sail propulsion systems, which use sunlight for propulsion instead of conventional rocket propellant. The solar sail will measure approximately 30 feet per side when unfurled, and the flight data will be used to design future larger-scale composite solar sail systems for various space missions.
Live Stream: rocketlabusa.com/livestream

For Additional Updates: Follow Rocket Lab’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Rocket Lab Beginning Of The Swarm Mission Patch

Rocket Lab Launch: Live & Let Fly

Mission name: Live & Let Fly
Launch Vehicle: Electron
Launch Site: Launch Complex 2, Wallops, Virginia
ET Launch Window: Approx 02:40 am, March 21 2024
PT Launch Window: Approx 11:40 pm, March 20 2024
Mission Overview: Rocket Lab’s upcoming NROL-123 mission, nicknamed ‘Live and Let Fly’, marks the company’s first launch for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from the United States, following four successful NRO missions from New Zealand. The launch, procured through NRO’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract, will take place at Launch Complex 2, a dedicated pad for the Electron rocket located at Virginia Spaceport Authority’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport within the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The mission aims to provide critical information to more than half a million government users, including every member of the Intelligence Community, two dozen domestic agencies, the military, lawmakers, and decision makers.
Live Stream: rocketlabusa.com/livestream

For Additional Updates: Follow Rocket Lab’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Rocket Lab Live & Let Fly Mission Patch

Rocket Lab's Neutron: 2024 Updates

2024 is going to be an extremely busy year as Rocket Lab pushes to get Neutron on the pad by December. I may not be able to capture every update, but I will at least pull all the official slides and key tweets together in one place. You can also track other Neutron updates on the blog here. For the updates from 2021 through 2023 see this post.

May 17, 2024 | Tweet by Rocket Lab

Tweet by Rocket Lab about Archimedes rocket engine testing

May 7, 2024 | Tweets by Rocket Lab

Tweets by Rocket Lab about Neutron rocket infrastructure

May 6, 2024 | Q1 2024 Investor Update

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update

May 6, 2024 | Tweet by Rocket Lab

Photo of Rocket Lab's Archimedes Engine

April 22, 2024 | Tweets by Rocket Lab

Photo of Rocket Lab's Neutron Launch Site Water Tower Photo of Rocket Lab's Neutron Launch Site Water Tower

March 18, 2024 | Tweets by Rocket Lab

Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops

February 27, 2024 | Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update

Rocket Lab and Viasat Team Up on Tech Demo

Payload has a good, concise write-up on Rocket Lab’s recent announcement that they’ll partner with Viasat to demo a proposed replacement for NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system. The deal, pretty cool and potentially lucrative long-term in its own right, is also (in typical Rocket Lab fashion) a strong strategic move:

Beck said last month that Rocket Lab’s partnerships were strategic, with the goal of matching SpaceX as a company that can both build and launch spacecraft. This project aims to give the company experience with responsive space communications, and the opportunity to develop a new L-band radio, moving toward Beck’s goal of operating his own satellite network in the next decade.

The Space Race Just Keeps Heating Up

Space assets are the most important enabler, and most significant vulnerability, in a superpower conflict. The U.S. government knows it and It’s why we have the Space Force and organizations like SDA. But while we are starting to scale and support a surging New Space industry China can, in some respects, surge faster:

China is growing its military capabilities in space at a “breathtaking pace” to counter the American satellites in orbit and improve its ability to monitor and target forces on Earth, according to the head of the US Space Command.

America’s top strategic challenger is seeking to develop advanced space weaponry and making advances in satellite meteorology, human spaceflight and robotic space exploration, General Stephen Whiting said during a hearing Thursday of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

We still hold the advantage but we could lose it surprisingly quickly if we don’t properly prioritize space. The coming decades will require the same level of focus and investment in the domain that we have poured into naval and air power. The time to build the infrastructure for rapid industrialized production and delivery of space assets is now. Thankfully we’re doing that with responsive space initiatives at companies like Rocket Lab, Terran Orbital, and Firefly. It’s a start, but we will need to do more.

Rocket Lab Launch: Owl Night Long

Mission name: Owl Night Long
Launch Vehicle: Electron
Launch Site: Launch Complex 1
NZDT Launch Window: 04:03, March 13 2024
UTC Launch Window: 15:03, March 12 2024
ET Launch Window: 11:03, March 12 2024
PT Launch Window: 08:03, March 12 2024
Mission Overview: ‘Owl Night Long’ is scheduled to deploy the StriX-3 satellite for Synspective, aimed at enhancing Earth observation capabilities with Synthetic Aperture Radar technology. This mission continues the collaboration between Rocket Lab and Synspective, expanding their SAR satellite constellation.
Live Stream: rocketlabusa.com/livestream

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Rocket Lab Owl Night Long Mission Patch

Rocket Lab and Varda Pull Off Historic Recovery

The Rocket Lab team setting up the Varda Space in orbit drug manufacturing spacecraft for re-entry.

Rocket Lab Mission Control Working to bring Varda Space capsule back to Earth

And the capsule’s successful recovery.

Varda Space capsule recover in the Utah desert

It took months for the team to land FAA part 450 approval for its landing in Utah but the spacecraft was well positioned to deal with the delays:

Today’s mission is a successful demonstration of Rocket Lab’s end-to-end space systems solutions tailored to enable novel and innovative missions for a range of customers. Rocket Lab designed, manufactured and operated a bespoke spacecraft to enable Varda’s capsule manufacturing demonstration. The spacecraft included a full suite of Rocket Lab sub-systems and components built in-house, spanning spacecraft engine, flight software, avionics, reaction wheels, star trackers, capsule dispenser, solar panels, radio, composite structures and tanks, and more.

While initially designed for a four-month lifespan on orbit, the mission timeline was more than doubled with Rocket Lab’s spacecraft successfully provided power, communications, ground control, and attitude control to Varda’s capsule on orbit for more than eight months. This enabled Varda’s capsule to grow Ritonavir crystals, commonly used in antiviral medication. As particles function differently when no longer under the force of gravity, Varda’s capsule utilizes microgravity conditions in space to formulate a range of pharmaceutical products.

Subsequent missions should be a lot easier to manage and the FAA seems to be getting on board to streamline the process for what looks like the birth of in-orbit manufacturing at scale.

Varda Capsule Set For Return

Varda’s capsule is finally coming home:

This is the first time the FAA has granted a Part 450 reentry license and also the first time the Department of Defense has worked with a commercial space company to allow reentry of this kind of mission on a government-owned range. Varda’s capsule is targeted for reentry and landing in the Utah Desert.

In the coming days, Rocket Lab will conduct a series of maneuvers to bring the capsule, named Winnebago-1, back to Earth.

  • Evening of February 18, PT: Initial burn of the Curie engine on Rocket Lab’s spacecraft to slow the spacecraft down, lower its perigee, and place Winnebago-1 in its first staging orbit. Target orbit: 300km x 500km.

  • Afternoon of February 20, PT: A second engine burn to raise the spacecraft’s apogee, the point at which the spacecraft passes farthest from Earth, and place Winnebago-1 in its second staging orbit. Target orbit: 300km x 900km.

  • Afternoon of February 21, PT: The spacecraft’s third and fourth final engine burns to de-orbit and set Winnebago-1 on its atmospheric reentry trajectory.

For more than eight months in space, Rocket Lab’s 300kg-class spacecraft has successfully provided power, communications, ground control, and attitude control to allow Varda’s capsule to grow Ritonavir crystals, a drug commonly used as an antiviral medication for HIV and hepatitis C.

Due to the initial planned reentry date being adjusted from late 2023, Rocket Lab’s spacecraft has been required to operate for more than double its intended orbital lifespan, which it has done without issue.

Rocket Lab Launch: On Closer Inspection

Mission name: On Closer Inspection
Launch Vehicle: Electron
Launch Site: Launch Complex 1 – Pad B, Mahia New Zealand
NZDT Launch Window: Opens 03:52, February 19th 2024
UTC Launch Window: 14:52, February 18th 2024
ET Launch Window: 09:52, February 18th 2024
PT Launch Window: 06:52, February 18th 2024
Mission Overview: ‘On Closer Inspection’ is an advanced mission by Rocket Lab, launching a single satellite, ADRAS-J, for Astroscale. This mission focuses on approaching and monitoring a piece of space junk to assess the potential for servicing or de-orbiting the debris in the future. It marks Rocket Lab’s second mission of 2024 and its 44th Electron launch overall.


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On Closer Inspection Mission Patch

Rocket Lab Launch: Four Of A Kind

It’s time to kick off the 2024 mission season!

Mission name: Four Of A Kind
Launch Vehicle: Electron
Launch Site Launch Complex 1
NZDT Launch Window: 19:15 – 20:00, Jan. 31 2024
UTC Launch Window: 06:15 – 07:00, Jan. 31 2024
ET Launch Window: 01:15 – 02:00, Jan. 31 2024
PT Launch Window: 22:15 – 23:00, Jan. 30 2024
Mission Overview: ‘Four Of A Kind’ is a dedicated mission for Spire Global Inc and its customer NorthStar Earth & Space, marking Rocket Lab’s first Electron launch of 2024 and their 43rd Electron mission. The mission will deploy four Space Situational Awareness (SSA) satellites built and operated by Spire for NorthStar. These satellites will be the first to simultaneously monitor all near-Earth orbits from space, providing advanced SSA services for space object detection, tracking, orbit determination, collision avoidance, navigation, and proximity alerts.
Press Kit: PDF Download
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Mission patch for Four Of A Kind, a dedicated Rocket Lab Electron mission for Spire Global Inc and its customer NorthStar Earth & Space

Rocket Lab Joins The Primes With Massive SDA Contract Win

Rocket Lab held an eagerly anticipated conference call to confirm additional details about its massive $515 million satellite constellation deal today:

The company joins Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, who received awards in August to develop 36 satellites each. The spacecraft are part of the third generation — dubbed Tranche 2 — of SDA’s Proliferated Warfigher Space Architecture, a fleet of hundreds of small satellites operating in low Earth orbit, about 1,200 miles above the planet’s surface.

That is very exclusive company and it highlights the most important takeaway from today’s call:

Rocket Lab will act as a prime contractor for SDA, leading the design, development, production, test, and operations of the satellites, including procurement and integration of the payload subsystems. The contract has a base value of $489 million plus $26 million in incentives and options.

“This contract marks the beginning of Rocket Lab’s new era as a leading satellite prime,” Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO Peter Beck said Jan. 8.

The company also confirmed that it is pursuing similar and even larger contracts across the defense and commercial domains. You can really see the strategy coming together (as they note in the related presentation) and positioning Rocket Lab to be a powerhouse even before all of the pieces are firmly in place.

This, at least in my opinion, signals Rocket Lab’s transition into a much more impactful and stable phase in it’s evolution. It de-risks the business and positions it for growth in ways that simply expanding launch cadence cannot. If that isn’t clear to you now I suspect it will be before 2024 ends. They are still just getting started.