Mar 22, 2017 | By Benedict

Rocket Lab, a startup based in Los Angeles and New Zealand whose rocket boosters use 3D printed engines, has raised $75 million in a Series D financing round. The money will be used to expand manufacturing facilities for the Electron launch vehicle.

There’s something a bit special about Electron, Rocket Lab’s small launch vehicle. The vehicle, which completed flight qualification in 2016, will be able to launch 330-pound satellites into orbit a few hundred miles above Earth. It is designed to be manufactured at a rate of one per week, and will sell for about $5 million per flight. Most eye-catching, however, is the vehicle’s booster, which features battery-operated electric motors and 3D printed Rutherford engines.

3D printed engines are no longer unusual in the aerospace sector, but few have been as high-profile as those fitted to the compact Electron launch vehicle, which will begin test flights over the next few weeks. Fortunately, Rocket Lab seems to be inspiring a lot of faith in its 3D printed rocket engines—so much faith, in fact, that a number of investors have just sunk $75 million into the startup.

The Series D financing round was led by Data Collective, a venture capital fund based in San Francisco, while additional investment was provided by Promus Ventures, an undisclosed investor, and existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1. The funds will be used to expand existing manufacturing facilities in California and New Zealand, where the Electron is being developed.

The Huntington Beach, California site will be used to build the engine and guidance systems, while the rocket’s physical structure will be made in New Zealand, which is also where everything will finally be assembled. The 3D printed Rutherford engine, named after New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford, is made with an electron beam melting 3D printing process.

Peter Beck at Rocket Lab L.A. (above) and the Electron launch vehicle at Rocket Lab NZ

“We started off with a clean sheet of paper,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said of the rocket’s design. “They designed the rocket to be mass produced—unlike the bespoke approach taken by many rocket makers—and to be able to be launched weekly, a currently unheard-of tempo in the industry. Test flights have been delayed, but the first one could come in the next four to eight weeks.”

Rocket Lab is one of about 30 companies and agencies from around the world that is developing small satellite launchers, and that market is only expected to grow. Some satellite constellations being developed by these companies for internet applications are expected to contain more than 1,000 satellites. If each of these companies were to carry out all of their planned projects, around 12,000 satellites would be launched over the next 10 years.

Following the Series D financing round, which was one of 2017’s largest (the average VC round being about $20.3 million), Rocket Lab has now received $148 million in funding, and is valued in excess of $1 billion. Its customers include NASA, Planet, and startups such as Spire and Moon Express. Moon Express has a particularly high priority, since it needs to launch a moon probe before the end of the year in order to qualify for a $20 million prize.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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