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Rocket Lab says SPAC deal will accelerate development of Neutron rocket

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Peter Beck

WASHINGTON — A growing realization of the need for a medium-class launch vehicle led Rocket Lab to speed up its plans to go public by merging with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Rocket Lab announced March 1 it would merge with Vector Acquisition Corporation, a SPAC established by venture fund Vector Capital. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2020, will provide Rocket Lab with $745 million in cash from the SPAC and a concurrent funding round, valuing the launch and space systems company at $4.1 billion.

In an interview, Peter Beck, the founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab, said the company has been moving “at a genteel speed” for some time toward a more traditional initial public offering (IPO) of stock. What changed the company’s plans was an analysis that the market needed a larger vehicle than its existing Electron rocket.

“It became very clear to us that what the industry needs right now is the right-sized medium-class vehicle for delivering megaconstellations,” he said. “The majority of the spacecraft in the future are in megaconstellations.”

Rocket Lab settled on a vehicle called Neutron, capable of placing up to 8,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit, which the company revealed at the same time as the SPAC deal. Developing such a vehicle required raising “significant amounts of capital,” Beck said, that could be done by going public.

“That’s basically why we announced them at the same time. We’re not going to announce a larger launch vehicle unless we had the appropriate financing in place to ensure its development through completion,” he said, describing the relationship between the Neutron program and going public as “symbiotic.”

Rocket Lab chose a SPAC rather than a traditional IPO in order to accelerate that development. Going public through a SPAC can take a fraction of the time of the IPO process. “For us, we really want to get cracking on a really aggressive large program,” he said. “This acceleration is really good for us because it means we can accelerate the program as well.”

Rocket Lab expects its business to accelerate over the next several years as well. In an investor presentation released as part of the SPAC deal, the company projects its revenue to grow from $35 million in 2020 to $1.57 billion in 2027. The company reported adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of –$36 million in 2020, but expects to break even in 2023 and reach $505 million in 2027.

Rocket Lab’s plans were thoroughly vetted by Vector as part of a three-month due diligence process. “They dug in very deeply,” Beck said. “We enjoyed the level of engagement that we had.”

Beck said his company had been approached by a number of firms as part of its plans to go public before deciding to merge with Vector’s SPAC. “They come with a very deep level of experience with a really strong bench,” he said of Vector. “It wasn’t just a blank check. It’s a team of 40 folks that we can leverage across things we want to do.”

Another reason Rocket Lab is going public it to help support acquisitions of unnamed companies. Rocket Lab acquired Sinclair Interplanetary, a manufacturer of smallsat components, last year. “We found it quite challenging as a private company to do the acquisitions that we wanted to do without having that public currency,” he said.

Beck doesn’t expect existing investors in the company, which has raised nearly $300 million in venture capital, to cash out after Rocket Lab goes public. “Nobody’s looking to go anywhere in a hurry,” he said. “All the existing investors in Rocket Lab are excited for us to be able to scale.”

Development of Neutron is still in its early phases because the company was waiting for the funding to support work on the larger rocket. Some technologies will be “directly transferable” from the smaller Electron rocket, like avionics, but other systems will either be scaled up or be new developments, such as new engines.

Neutron will fly from Pad 0-A from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, the pad currently used by Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket and next to Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 pad for its Electron rocket. Using that pad, Beck said, avoids the expense of building a new launch complex.

“Leveraging the $100 million of wonderful investment by the state into a launch pad that’s used very infrequently just makes good business sense,” he said, a reference to the current Antares flight rate of two missions a year. “It saves a whole lot of time and risk out of development program.”

Rocket Lab will build a factory for Neutron as close as it can to that launch pad to minimize issues with transporting the vehicle, such as bridge clearances when transporting rockets by road.

Beck said that, despite the new focus on Neutron, the company has no plans to abandon the smaller Electron rocket. “We continue to see the demand for Electron grow,” he said. “There is an absolute need in the marketplace for a reliable small dedicated launcher.”

Beck had once thought there was no need for a vehicle larger than Electron, until those market analyses showed how a medium-class vehicle could serve the megaconstellation market. He had similarly dismissed the need for reusability, only to embrace it as a means to increase the Electron flight rate.

In a nod to past vows to “eat his hat” if he was wrong about reusability and larger launch vehicles, a video released by Rocket Lab showed Beck doing just that. He cut up pieces of a hat with the Electron logo, shredded them in a blender and took a bite.

How did the hat taste? “It was terrible,” he said. “It’s like eating a handful of chemicals.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/rocket-lab-says-spac-deal-will-accelerate-development-of-neutron-rocket/

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Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship for its growing fleet

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Virgin Galactic has unveiled the company’s first SpaceShip III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine.

The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term.

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing colour and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

VSS Imagine is unveiled ahead of VSS Unity’s next test flight, which is planned for May 2021.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, commented: “Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight. Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, added: “Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

www.virgingalactic.com

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Source: https://www.aero-mag.com/virgin-galactic-unveils-new-spaceship-for-its-growing-fleet/

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

Hexcel has announced its role within the recently launched UK-based project called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) that will focus on developing high-rate manufacturing and processing technologies that will accelerate the development of new, lightweight advanced composite materials.

The composites company will join lead partner GKN Aerospace and 13 other project stakeholders in a collaboration across the UK supply chain to develop the technologies and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight, more fuel-efficient structures for sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive industries.

Hexcel will contribute to the ASCEND project framework, developing a new HexPly fast cure prepreg system that will significantly reduce component processing times compared to existing aerospace prepregs.

In addition to its new fast curing prepreg technology, Hexcel’s range of Liquid Composite Moulding (LCM) products will be incorporated into the ASCEND project work packages. The project will use both HiTape advanced unidirectional dry carbon reinforcements and HiMax multiaxial non-crimp fabrics reinforcements.

The ASCEND project will allow Hexcel to collaborate with Tier 1 companies, engineers, tooling specialists, and production equipment OEMs to deliver both prepreg and liquid composite moulding solutions that meet both the performance targets and satisfy the processing requirements for high-rate automated manufacture.

The technical integration enabled by the ASCEND project partnerships will ensure a complete understanding of customer performance and processing needs, coupled with the opportunity to industrialize new technologies utilizing the extensive capabilities of GKN’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

Paul Mackenzie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Hexcel, said “We are  proud to be part of the ASCEND program, and we look forward to working with other leading companies as we develop processes and materials that help to make the next generation of sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive vehicles possible. This project offers the perfect platform for Hexcel to collaborate and further develop our HexPly, HiMax, and HiTape technologies.”

The ASCEND partners working alongside Hexcel include Assyst Bulmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, DES Composites, FAR-UK, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, McLaren Automotive, The National Composites Centre, Solvay Composite Technologies, Rafinex, and Sigmatex (UK).

Together, the group looks forward to delivering the material and automation innovations that will power more sustainable mobility solutions of the future.

www.hexcel.com

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes extends landing gear kits contract with Magellan

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes division has extended its component supply contract with Canada-based supplier Magellan Aerospace.

Under this long-term contract, Magellan will continue to supply landing gear kits and structural components for Boeing platforms such as the 737, 767, and 777.

The contract extension also shows that Magellan meets Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ cost, quality and performance requirements.

Magellan business development, marketing and contract vice-president Haydn Martin said: “Securing this major business extension for key Boeing platforms is foundational for our New York and Kitchener facilities as the aerospace industry works to recover from the impact of the global pandemic.

“The confidence that Boeing has placed in Magellan is significant and demonstrates our ability to offer our customers comprehensive and reliable solutions.”

For Boeing, the company is using a vertical integration strategy that leverages global resources in Ontario, New York City, and India.

It has also made significant investments across all its facilities regarding manufacturing technology and the workforce to enhance its competitiveness worldwide.

Magellan will deliver these kits and hardware from its facilities in Kitchener, Ontario and New York City, New York. The company will also produce an extra supply of kits to reduce production risk.

Deliveries will be made directly to Boeing’s assembly facilities in Renton and Everett, Washington, US.

Last month, Magellan signed a five-year renewal agreement with Avio Aero to supply magnesium and aluminium castings.

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/boeing-commercial-aircraft-magellan/

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ZeroAvia raises new funding for hydrogen-electric engine development

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Zero-emission aviation firm ZeroAvia has raised $24.3m in new funding to support the development of a 2MW hydrogen-electric engine.

Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, an existing investor, led the latest funding round and was joined by new investor British Airways.

Other investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, and SYSTEMIQ, also joined the financing.

The financing takes the company’s total private investment to more than $53m while the total funding raised is close to $74m since its formation.

ZeroAvia’s funding comes a few months after the UK Government, through the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), and Innovate UK, announced a $16.3m (£12.3m) grant to deliver a 19-seat hydrogen-electric powered aircraft in the market by 2023.

The new funding will accelerate the hydrogen-electric powertrain development for a ten to 20-seater regional aircraft.

ZeroAvia aims to commercialise the engine as early as 2024. The company aims to enter the more than 50-seater commercial aircraft segment by 2026.

The funding will also de-risk the company ambition to power a 100-seat single-aisle aircraft by 2030.

ZeroAvia CEO and founder Val Miftakhov said: “This new funding, in conjunction with our other recent milestones, will significantly accelerate our path to zero-emission solutions for larger regional aircraft at a commercial scale.

“With many airlines lining up and ready to make the shift to zero-emissions, we expect to see wide-scale adoption of this technology.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/zeroavia-electric-raising-funds/

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