A Look at Rocket Lab Funding Sources

Founder and CEO Peter Beck displays Rocket Lab’s accumulated expertise in carbon composite launch vehicles. (Credit: Rocket Lab)
Founder and CEO Peter Beck displays Rocket Lab’s accumulated expertise in carbon composite launch vehicles. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Small-satellite launch provider Rocket Lab has received funding over the past four years from the United States and New Zealand governments as well as Silicon Valley-based Khosla Ventures.

Rocket Lab announced in January 2011 that it had completed the first phase of a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA).

“The research was focused on developing new novel high density mono propellants that have the potential to offer significant advantages over the current state of the art,” the company said in a press release. “The research concluded with a series of fully instrumented static test fires validating the propulsion system for further development.”

Eight months later, the company announced it has signed a contract with DARPA and the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) for the second phase of the propellant development program. “The density performance is comparable to conventional high performance solid propellants but with the controllability of liquid propellants being throttleable and re-startable,” the company said.

In October 2013, Rocket Lab announced a successful raising of A-Round venture capital funding from Khosla Ventures.

“The new funding will kick-start Rocket Lab’s next chapter with the launch of an orbital launch vehicle program aimed at the fast-emerging small satellite market,” the company said in a press release. “The new programme will change the way the world thinks about access to space by removing traditional barriers to entry.”

In January 2014, the New Zealand Government awarded Rocket Lab research and development funding through the the Callaghan Innovation Growth Grants program.

“Rocket Lab will use the funding to further the development of its orbital launch vehicle program which secured A-Round venture capital funding from Silicon Valley-based Khosla Ventures in late 2013,” the company said in a press release. “Significant progress has been made in reaching the first milestones of the new program thus far including recruitment of propulsion, vehicle design, avionics and GNC teams and test firing of the company’s in-house developed Rutherford engine, which will be the mainstay of the new vehicle’s propulsion system.”

The grants are part of an effort to support New Zealand companies conducting research and development.

“R&D Growth Grants were introduced last year as part of changes to R&D funding designed to encourage more research and development to be undertaken by businesses in New Zealand,” the government said in a press release. “They provide up to $5 million co-funding a year to mid-sized and large New Zealand-based companies that are experienced in doing R&D….

“They provide 20 per cent public co-funding for qualifying firms’ eligible R&D expenditure, with an expanded cap of $5 million per annum – up from the previous scheme’s $2.4 million.  After two years of funding, businesses can be granted a further two-year extension of funding,” the government said. “To qualify for a Growth Grant, a business needs to commit to spend at least $300,000, and at least 1.5 per cent of revenue, on R&D occurring in New Zealand.”

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Gee, wonder where he came up with the idea for his rocket engine layout….you know, for his 9 rockets engines……

  • Lech

    This is so American… sue him!

  • Guest

    I suspect like many people, he looked at the Saturn 1B and wondered why they didn’t put a ninth engine in the middle!

  • Hug Doug
  • therealdmt

    SpaceX deliberately hasn’t patented anything, so it’s fair game (even if, like your keen bear eye pointed out [i didn’t pick up on it until I read your comment], a bit depressingly unoriginal).

    SpaceX will have to out innovate and out execute, but the more success they have, the more they’ll inspire competition – including imitators. That’s the curse of first mover. It’s kind of ugly, but “fast followers” can have an advantage over innovators.

  • Sirius

    Pretty sure they will switch to a single or twin engine design as soon as they have a bigger engine. But it’s better to start with the things you already have…

  • Hug Doug

    well, to be fair, there’s not that many ways to arrange 9 rocket engines, or at least not many that make sense. you basically end up with either a square or a circle with one engine in the middle, and a circle makes more sense than a square does – as the forces of thrust are more evenly distributed through the rocket body.

  • windbourne

    Interesting.
    Why is the US gov. investing into this?

  • Hug Doug

    because they are “developing new novel high density mono propellants that have the potential to offer significant advantages over the current state of the art,” which the US government is interested in.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    They might do, but that would completely rule out any chance of recovering the first stage by propulsive landing. As soon as an F9 first stage touches down intact, then any launch system that is not moving towards a similar reusability approach will be on the endangered rockets list. Single/twin engine designs are doomed to extinction.

    The market for dedicated orbit delivery for small satellites will only last so long at these sort of prices. They will have to get much cheaper if they are to survive into the next decade.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Eight engines in a circle with a ninth in the middle is about as patentable as a long cylinder with a pointy end at the top.

  • windbourne

    If this was in America and it was not Tesla, they would.
    So many of the far right scream about taxes and regs, when in fact, it is the lawsuit happy ways of both the far right and left that is destroying America’s way.