U.S. launch services company Rocket Lab announced Monday that it has won a $515 million contract from the Space Development Agency (SDA) to design and deploy a satellite constellation for national defense purposes. The contract marks Rocket Lab’s first as a prime contractor on a U.S. defense program.
Rocket Lab to Build 18 Satellites in Tranche 2 Transport Layer
As per the contract terms, Rocket Lab will build 18 spacecraft over 3 years for Tranche 2 of SDA’s National Defense Space Architecture. The satellites will provide resilient and redundant low-Earth orbit connectivity to defense assets.
Rocket Lab will handle end-to-end delivery of the satellite system, including spacecraft design and manufacture, launch, and on-orbit operations. The company expects to leverage its vertically integrated capabilities across the program.
The 18 satellites will be deployed across 3 orbital planes at 1,000 km altitude and inclination angles of 35°, 53° and 96° to Polar orbits. Rocket Lab plans to launch the satellites on its Electron launch vehicle from Launch Complex 2 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
Win Validates Rocket Lab’s Position in Defense Market
The SDA contract award validates Rocket Lab as a prime contractor able to provide full end-to-end mission solutions in the national security space market. As per Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck:
This contract award demonstrates Rocket Lab’s ability to provide responsive space capabilities at scale to support critical government operations. We bring speed and agility through our in-house mission design and launch capabilities, high rate satellite manufacturing, and increasingly sophisticated satellite hardware.
The contract leverages Rocket Lab’s investments in responsive launch and spacecraft manufacture at scale. With its expanding satellite division, the company is positioning itself as a provider of integrated space solutions across civil, commercial and national security sectors.
Contract Builds Upon Prior Launches for Military and Intelligence Customers
While its first as a prime, this is not Rocket Lab’s first dealings with U.S. defense agencies. Previously, the company has launched dedicated missions for military and intelligence community customers under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle.
Past missions have included testing new systems and capabilities for various agencies including the Space Test Program, Space Systems Command, and the National Reconnaissance Office. Under regular RASR missions and the recent Orbital Prime program, Rocket Lab has launched over 30 satellites for defense/intelligence agencies till date.
Rocket Lab Well-Positioned to Execute Tranche 2 Program
Industry analysts note that Rocket Lab is well-positioned to execute the Tranche 2 transport satellites based on its prior experience and infrastructure:
The 18 satellites are based on Rocket Lab’s new medium-class Spectre satellite platform. Earlier Spectre-based missions for radio frequency monitoring have performed well, demonstrating the platform’s capabilities.
Rocket Lab has scaled up satellite production at its Long Beach facility to churn out over 200 spacecraft per year across the Photon and Spectre platforms. This high rate production will be leveraged for the contract.
The Electron rocket has launched over 40 dedicated missions with 100% mission success in past 3 years. Combined with responsive launch facilities, Rocket Lab can easily accommodate the launch rate required.
Operations of the satellite constellation will be managed through Rocket Lab’s satellite operations center in New Zealand, which already tracks over 100 in-orbit spacecraft.
Contract Win Boosts Investor Confidence
Rocket Lab’s stock jumped over 25% during Monday’s trading on news of the SDA contract award. The company’s market capitalization exceeded $4 billion at closing.
Investors are regaining confidence in Rocket Lab’s ability to continue expanding revenue opportunities while maintaining positive economics. The contract adds to Rocket Lab’s contracted revenue backlog, which exceeded $558 million at end of Q3 2023.
What Does This Contract Mean for the Future?
Expert opinions on what this contract signifies for Rocket Lab’s future prospects:
Demonstrates clear success of Rocket Lab’s strategy to leverage government contracts to scale revenues rapidly. Similar to launch services contracts in the past, this validates their model of using government funds to build capability and infrastructure that benefits broader commercial sectors over time.
Strong validation of vertical integration approach and investments in responsive launch and spacecraft manufacture. This will likely become baseline for future National Security Space missions requiring rapid reconstitution capabilities.
Opens more opportunities in the government space market both in launch services and satellite solutions. Rocket Lab can leverage this reference customer to bid on larger, higher value military space programs.
Overall boosts confidence that Rocket Lab has a visible pathway to sustain high growth rates and achieve overall profitability within 2-3 years.
In summary, Rocket Lab’s SDA contract win affirms their strategy and investments in responsive launch and spacecraft solutions tailored to the government’s needs. By delivering successfully on this contract, Rocket Lab can significantly grow its share in the military space market over the coming years.
Table summarizing key details of the SDA contract award:
|Space Development Agency
|Design and manufacture satellite constellation
|1000 km Polar at 35°, 53° and 96° inclinations
|Planned from Rocket Lab LC-2, Virginia
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