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In today’s newsletter…
🚁 Rocket Lab recovery
🚀 NS-19 manifest
📝 Term sheet
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Rocket Lab Rinses and Repeats
Rocket Lab (NASDAQ: RKLB) successfully completed its 22nd launch, “Love At First Insight,” with Electron last week. The rocket transported two BlackSky Earth observation satellites to orbit, bringing Rocket Lab’s satellite launch total to 107.
With a twist: Love at First Insight involved a controlled splashdown of the rocket’s first stage. Rocket Lab stationed a helicopter by the splashdown site to gather data and prep for future aerial capture attempts.
Reduce, reuse, recycle: Rocket Lab is hoping to use helicopters to catch Electron’s booster mid-air and transport it back to land. The boosters will be refurbished and, eventually, relaunched. It’s a goal that would make James Bond proud.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told media Tuesday that it’s a relatively affordable goal, costing ~$4K/hour to fly the chopper, compared to much more expensive recovery options. “I think anybody who’s not developing a reusable launch vehicle at this point in time is developing a dead-end product,” Beck said.
Last week’s flight proved that the helicopter could get eyes on the stage as it fell. Rocket Lab hopes to test an Electron booster catch in the first half of 2022, per Beck.
- Eventually, the company hopes that about half of its flights will incorporate reusable stages.
- Reusable stages do not increase Electron’s payload capacity.
- Beck said the primary purpose of recycling parts is to increase the cadence of launch, allowing Rocket Lab to meet customer demand.
Rocket Lab had a “horrible year for launch,” said Beck. Lockdowns in New Zealand slow-rolled production and prevented the company from getting out to the launchpad for a while.
Reasons to be bullish? In a recent note, Deutsche Bank Research said it expects 17 Electron launches in FY 2022, at nearly 40% gross margins. That would bring the company’s expected revenue to $200M, per DB analyst Edison Yu. DB’s price target for $RKLB is $18. The company is currently trading at $14.55.
Beck also teased a Neutron rocket update by the end of 2021. Neutron is being marketed as a reusable, medium-lift rocket—or “mega constellation launcher”—that will be capable of supporting human spaceflight.
The Gang’s All Here
ICYMI: Blue Origin announced a six-person crew for NS-19. New Shepard’s next crewed flight will take place on Dec. 9. It’s the 19th mission for New Shepard, and the first time the rocket will carry a full manifest of six astronauts.
NS-19’s two “honorary guests”:
- Michael Strahan, co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America and former NFL player
- Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of Alan Shepard and chair of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Board of Trustees
NS-19’s four customers:
- Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space
- Evan Dick, an investor and engineer
- Lane Bess, founder of Bess Ventures
- Cameron Bess, a content creator
“Buy One, Give One”: Taylor will donate the equivalent of a New Shepard ticket price to four organizations: Astro Access, Edesia Nutrition, the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, and the Brooke Owens Fellowship.
In a blog post, Taylor said he hopes other commercial astronauts will consider the “buy one, give one” pledge. Commercial astronauts are projected to spend several hundred million in the coming years, Taylor wrote. “The impact that cohort could have here on Earth if they all supported this initiative could be very substantial.”
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In Other News
- DART launched from Vandenberg, deployed from its Falcon 9, and rolled out two solar arrays. The asteroid hunter is now headed for deep space.
- A Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying a Prichal docking module that will expand the Russian segment of the ISS.
- Nanoracks will deploy the first-ever .3U CubeSat (3 cm x 3 cm x 3cm) from the ISS. The Italian-made satellite will be one of the smallest trackable objects ever deployed from the ISS.
- JAXA, Japan’s space agency, is recruiting new astronauts to support Artemis.
- The Royal Aeronautical Society awarded honorary fellowships to SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell and former NASA Administrator James Bridenstine.
- Virgin Galactic today will announce the winner of two tickets for one of its next flights.
- Sierra Space, a developer of commercial space infrastructure and transportation vehicles, raised $1.4B of Series A funding led by General Atlantic, Coatue Management, and Moore Strategic Ventures. The round values Sierra at $4.5B.
- ADA Space, a developer and operator of commercial satellites, raised CNY 355M ($52.4M) of Series B funding led by Guangdong Hengjian Investment.
- The Exploration Company, a developer of modular and reusable orbital vehicles, raised EUR 5.3 million (~$6M) of seed funding in a deal led by Promus Ventures.
- Cognitive Space, a developer of AI for satellite imagery, raised $4M in seed funding in a deal led by Grit Ventures (h/t SpaceNews).
- Spacety, a commercial satellite developer, raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding led by Cedarlake Capital.
- Voyager Space announced its intentions to acquire a majority stake in Space Micro, a San Diego-based satellite subsystem maker, for an undisclosed amount.