Rocket Lab reveals value of Nasa Moon mission contract, more details

Rocket Lab has revealed the value of its Moon mission for Nasa – US$9.95 million ($14m) – and confirmed the flight will take place before the end of this year.

The Kiwi-American company does not usually put a value on its special projects, but is now looking to showcase itself ahead of its $US4.1 billion Nasdaq listing, expected before the end of September.

The mission, scheduled for “late 2021” will see one of Rocket Lab’s Electron rockets launch one of the company’s Photon (or “satellite bus”) spacecraft into low Earth orbit. The Photon will then ferry Nasa’s Capstone satellite into lunar orbit.

Capstone supports Nasa’s Artemis programme, “which includes plans to land the first woman and the first person of colour on the Moon and establish a long-term presence there,” a Rocket Lab spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman would not comment on whether the mission would be profitable.

Rocket Lab – which charges a keen US$5m for its regular launches to low-Earth orbit – is keen to use Capstone to reinforce its cost-competitive, Kiwi ingenuity brand.

The contract’s sub-US$10m value makes it “one of the most affordable lunar launches undertaken. Being able to launch interplanetary missions so cost-effectively opens up exciting new opportunities for scientific exploration and commercial opportunities off Earth,” Rocket Lab said in a statement today.

It will be the first of three interplanetary missions Rocket Lab has announced so far. The company also has a privately-funded jaunt to Venus in 2023, and has secured a Nasa contract to design and construct two Photon satellites that will go into orbit around the Red Planet to study its atmosphere from 2024.

Rocket Lab says it won’t reveal the value of its Mars contract until it reaches the build phase. The company sees such space services becoming a larger and larger part of its revenue as it shoots to go from loss-making with under US$100m in annual revenue today to a projected US$505m operating profit on US$1.57b turnover by 2027 – with big leaps after its larger, crew-cable Neutron Rocket (which will have a payload capacity of up to 8 tonnes launches in 2024, all going to plan.

Among other firsts, it will be first lunar mission launched from New Zealand.

Rocket Lab also revealed today that the Capstone mission launch will be from Launch Complex 1 at Mahia, rather than its new Launch Complex 2 at Nasa’s Wallops Island facility in the US state of Virginia (where the US space agency has yet to complete the certification processes for autonomous flight termination system software for launches from LC-2).

Once up and running, Rocket Lab’s Virginia launchpad will see up to 12 missions a year, primarily for the US military and Nasa.

The company also released two Capstone images today – one an artist’s impression of Nasa’s Capstone satellite being ferried into lunar orbit by a Rocket Lab Photon, the other a real-life photo of an engineering test structure – although the spokeswoman added “the real one is at our factory in Mt Wellington getting ready for flight.”

Rocket Lab has taken flak recently for being a hard-driving environment -something founder Peter Beck didn’t shy from recently as he told the Herald, “You don’t go to Mars working eight to five, Monday to Friday.”

But Beck also pointed out that if Rocket Lab lists on the Nasdaq at its anticipated US$4.1b valuation, the share float will turn more than 100 staff into millionaires, while more than 180 will have stock holdings worth more than $500,000 thanks to shares granted as bonuses to “higher performers” over the years.

Rocket Lab currently has around 600 staff – around two-thirds in NZ – with a hiring drive underway that should see it hit 700 in the next year or so.

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