November 24, 2021

Rocket Lab Rinses and Repeats

Image: Rocket Lab
Image: Rocket Lab

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.