Vector fueling (Source: Vector website)

Vector lands $70 million in second venture round

Tucson, Arizona-based Vector announced securing $70 million in venture funding. The round was lead by Kodem Growth Partners, in conjunction with Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners. Existing investors Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Shasta Ventures also participated in the round.   Vector is focusing on a low-cost, minimal-infrastructure launch system to quickly put satellites into orbit, one that puts it on a path to an initial public offering (IPO) in the future.

“Vector is entering an extremely important phase of our journey, transitioning from a focus on research and development to flight operations and profitability. This Series B financing is a critical element in Vector’s mission to improve access to space and become a dominant launch provider to the small satellite industry,” said Jim Cantrell, CEO and co-founder of Vector.

A good chunk of the $70 million is going to build a factory to crank out rockets to the rate of up to 100 per year.  The small launch business is predicated on mass production and economies of scale to keep pricing low and getting small satellites to orbit as needed, rather than having to scrounge around for opportunities on a rideshare with a bigger satellite.

Vector has demonstrated the ability to launch from just about anywhere at any time, conducting a sub-orbital launch from a Georgia spaceport and demonstrating concept of operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  It also has a partnership with Citrix Systems and has established sales to Japan and other Asia markets.

Another portion of the $70 million will go into expanding its sales and marketing teams, perhaps nearly as important as its first orbital flight attempt to take place in the near future from a spaceport in Alaska. With plans to build up to 100 rockets per year when its new factory is finished, Vector will need to line up a pipeline of customers.  

But the company isn’t alone in pursuing small satellite customers.  Rocket Lab announced the completion of a new factory in New Zealand to build up to 50 rocket per year and is building the LC-2 launch complex at Wallops Island, Virginia to service U.S. government and other customers that don’t want to travel outside of the U.S.  Rocket’s LC-2 complex is licensed to launch every 72 hours, so in theory it could launch up to 120 times per year, but that assumes perfect weather, no wayward boats or aircraft, and flawless hardware and operations. 

Vector’s advantage over Rocket Lab is a bare-bones approach to launch, using a transporter/erector/launch (TEL) vehicle to bring the rocket out to a site and set it up to send to space.  Bring in a truck to load up the fuels, drive off, and the launch is remotely conducted via Citrix from a control center in Tucson.   A single control center can therefore be used to conduct launchers wherever a TEL is parked and TELs can be moved between spaceports if needed/as needed.

Rocket Lab is spending $20 million of its own money to build LC-2, with another $5 million in economic development funds being tossed in by the state of Virginia.  LC-2 will tap into the existing fuel facilities at Wallops, additional “overhead” that Vector doesn’t seem to need with its approach.

On the launch-to-orbit scorecard, Rocket Lab has conducted one successful test placing satellites into orbit and plans to restart operations with two operational flights scheduled in November and December of this year.  Vector has conducted a sub-orbital flight with a full orbital test of the Vector-R vehicle scheduled by the end of this year with launch from Alaska.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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