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Rocket Lab to go public through SPAC merger and develop medium-lift rocket

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Neutron rocket

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab, a developer of launch vehicles and smallsats, will merge with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) to support development of a larger launch vehicle, part of the latest wave of deals to take space companies public.

Rocket Lab announced March 1 that it will merge with Vector Acquisition Corporation, a SPAC established last year by venture capital fund Vector Capital. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter, with Rocket Lab then traded on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol RKLB.

The merger will provide Rocket Lab with up to $320 million from Vector Acquisition’s account. In addition, a concurrent private investment in public equity (PIPE) round, led by Vector Capital, BlackRock and Neuberger Berman, will provide $470 million. The merger will value Rocket Lab at $4.1 billion.

“This milestone accelerates Rocket Lab’s ability to unlock the full potential of space through our launch and spacecraft platforms and catalyzes our ambition to create a new multi-billion-dollar business vertical in space applications,” said Peter Beck, chief executive and founder of Rocket Lab, in a statement announcing the merger.

“Rocket Lab is a once-in-a-generation company that is democratizing access to space through its constant innovation, leading technology and proven execution,” Alex Slusky, chief executive of Vector, said in the statement. Slusky will join the board of Rocket Lab once the merger closes. “Rocket Lab is ideally positioned to continue to capture market share in the rapidly expanding space launch, systems and applications markets.”

Rocket Lab is best known for its Electron small launch vehicle, which has launched 18 times since 2017. The company is also working on a smallsat bus called Photon designed to be launched with Electron. It launched the first Photon satellite last August and will launch the second on the next Electron launch in mid-March.

Rocket Lab had raised $288 million in several funding rounds, most recently $140 million in a Series E round in November 2018 that valued the company at more than $1 billion. Beck described that round as “a big keg of dry powder” to allow it to weather disruptions such as the pandemic, as well as support new initiatives like its Photon satellite bus and an ongoing effort to reuse the Electron’s first stage.

The funding from the SPAC merger will enable another new initiative. Rocket Lab said it is working on a medium-class launch vehicle called Neutron, capable of placing up to 8,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit, more than 20 times the capacity of Electron. The company disclosed few technical details about Neutron, but said that it intends to make the first stage reusable through propulsive landing on an ocean platform, similar to SpaceX’s recovery of Falcon 9 first stages.

The new vehicle is intended to support the growing interest in satellite megaconstellations. “Neutron’s eight-ton lift capacity will make it ideally sized to deploy satellites in batches to specific orbital planes, creating a more targeted and streamlined approach to building out megaconstellations,” Beck said in the statement.

Rocket Lab had previously resisted building a larger vehicle. “There’s no market for it,” Beck said during a side session of the Smallsat Conference in August 2020. “If you build a larger rocket, you relegate yourself to being purely rideshare, and rideshare is really well-served.”

“We’re not going to move the needle for anybody” with a larger rocket offering rideshare services, he continued. “Where we can move the needle is increasing the launch cadence of Electron and driving the cost down so people can use the advantage that dedicated launch really provides.”

The first Neutron launch is scheduled for 2024 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. The vehicle will leverage the infrastructure the company built at Launch Complex 2 there for the Electron rocket, which will make its debut from that pad later this year. Rocket Lab said it’s “assessing locations across America” for a factory that would handle large-scale production of Neutron.

Rocket Lab is part of a surge of deals involving SPACs, which offer companies a faster route to going public than the traditional initial public offering process. Virgin Galactic merged with a SPAC, Social Capital Hedosophia, in 2019, a deal that raised $460 million for Virgin and allowed it to go public on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2019.

In the last several months, four other space companies have announced plans to merge with SPACs. Last fall, in-space transportation company Momentus and satellite communications company AST SpaceMobile announced plans to merge with SPACs, deals that have yet to close. In February, small launch vehicle developer Astra and geospatial intelligence company BlackSky also announced mergers with SPACs.

“I think that it was the Virgin deal that got most people looking at SPACs and charging ahead,” said James Murray of PJT Partners, an investment banking company, at the SmallSat Symposium in February. “I don’t think this is going to slow down in the very near future.”

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Source: https://spacenews.com/rocket-lab-to-go-public-through-spac-merger-and-develop-medium-lift-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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