CLOSINGS: View Closings

US startup sees a big future in small rockets

A scrappy American rocket startup just set the bar in the red-hot market for companies that launch small sat...

Posted: Nov 12, 2018 6:44 AM

A scrappy American rocket startup just set the bar in the red-hot market for companies that launch small satellites.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket launched six small satellites -- or smallsats -- into a low-Earth orbit Sunday from New Zealand. It's the second time company's rocket, which is less than 60 feet tall, has done that.

Rocket Lab's rivals have not yet pulled off an orbital launch, which means it is at the front of an increasingly crowded pack of rocket startups that want to launch smallsats for businesses and researchers.

Other prominent companies in the dedicated smallsat launch industry include Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit and SpaceX veteran Jim Cantrell's Vector.

"[My team] built a beautiful machine," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told CNN Business on Sunday.

Why smallsats?

Just as cell phones have shrunk, similar technological advancements have made satellites smaller and more capable.

But rockets have not downsized, and smallsats have been forced to hitch rides with much larger payloads on powerful rockets, like SpaceX's Falcon 9 or Russia's Soyuz rocket.

Smallsat companies are often forced to wait long periods for free space aboard a rocket.

Rocket Lab and a slew of other startups aim to change that by flying smaller, less powerful rockets. The companies want to mass produce the rockets and offer far more frequent trips to space.

Sunday's Rocket Lab mission included payloads for customers like Spire Global, which collects data about ships and planes around the globe, and Fleet Space Technologies, which aims to connect remote devices to the internet.

Beck, the Rocket Lab chief, told CNN Business that Australia-based Fleet Technologies was delayed for more than a year waiting to get its payload into orbit. Fleet reached out to Rocket Lab about a month ago, and the company's satellite was able to get on board the Electron by Sunday.

"That's really what it's all about. That's how we're going to make space accessible," Beck said.

Paying for a dedicated launch vehicle, like Rocket Lab's Electron, can be more expensive for smallsat operators than hitching a ride on a larger rocket.

But Beck said many in the industry are willing to pay for the convenience of an Electron rocket. When the company is going at full speed, he says Electrons will be flinging satellites into space on a bi-weekly basis.

Rocket Lab's third flight is planned for next month, and its fourth is slated for January 2019. The company hopes to complete 16 launches next year.

Sizing up the competition

Rocket Lab's competition may not be too far behind.

Virgin Orbit, a firm under Branson's Virgin Group, wants to launch smallsats by early next year. Its system launches a rocket from under the wing of a Boeing 747 in midair.

Vector, the brainchild of former SpaceX executive Cantrell, is also planning an inaugural orbital flight within the next few months.

Dozens of other startups are waiting in the wings. Experts suspect there will eventually be a shakeout in the market and there's no guarantee Rocket Lab will survive.

"Going first doesn't necessarily mean you win," Steve Isakowtiz, CEO of nonprofit research group The Aerospace Corporation, told CNN Business in a recent interview. "Can they get to market? Can they sustain it through production? And do they have the customer base?"

Beck, the Rocket Lab chief, said he thinks the market is headed for a "brutal consolidation" over the next 12 to 18 months that will leave just a few companies. And he's confident Rocket Lab will be one of them, he said.

The company, which Beck says is close to turning a profit, has raised $148 million in venture capital and is building factories capable of making one rocket per week.

"Anybody that owns a rocket company and tells you it's smooth sailings from here is living in a different world," Beck said. "But we've been successful and there will be more to come. It's all about scaling now and continuing to lead."

Terre Haute
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 69°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 69°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 69°
Rockville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 61°
Casey
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 67°
Brazil
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 69°
Marshall
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 69°
Partly cloudy and calm
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 198248

Reported Deaths: 7866
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1124844933
Lake12852447
DuPage12427522
Kane9878305
Will9413346
St. Clair4107161
Winnebago3797131
McHenry3250114
Madison270276
Kankakee180269
Rock Island176436
Champaign169319
Peoria166736
Kendall139823
Unassigned1347209
Sangamon129733
DeKalb94730
LaSalle80124
Boone76923
Jackson73120
McLean67015
Macon65023
Tazewell6108
Adams5576
Coles49221
Randolph4747
Williamson4346
Ogle4165
Clinton41517
Whiteside36617
Grundy3345
Stephenson3346
Union32723
Monroe32313
Knox3131
Jefferson29219
Morgan2696
Iroquois26711
Henry2531
Vermilion2342
Cass23311
Bureau2313
Franklin1941
Warren1910
Perry1842
Macoupin1823
Lee1781
Montgomery1717
Marion1650
Effingham1631
Woodford1583
Logan1571
McDonough14515
Christian1434
Saline1342
Jo Daviess1301
Livingston1223
Douglas1222
Jersey1172
Pulaski941
Clark872
Shelby861
Mercer764
Moultrie750
White710
Johnson710
Fayette693
Washington670
Wayne662
Piatt630
Hancock631
Bond623
Carroll614
Jasper607
Greene590
Cumberland573
Menard570
Mason560
Lawrence510
Gallatin512
Ford502
Massac410
Wabash400
Alexander370
Fulton350
De Witt340
Crawford300
Edgar290
Hamilton290
Marshall280
Clay260
Pike240
Scott210
Edwards200
Richland200
Hardin180
Schuyler180
Brown150
Putnam140
Henderson130
Pope110
Calhoun90
Stark70
Out of IL10

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 75862

Reported Deaths: 3069
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16088730
Lake7688278
Elkhart492685
Allen4002163
St. Joseph357883
Hamilton2829104
Vanderburgh202213
Hendricks1927108
Cass18029
Johnson1789119
Porter135539
Clark128749
Tippecanoe123811
Madison100665
LaPorte93130
Howard91365
Kosciusko86812
Bartholomew81747
Floyd80948
Marshall79323
Monroe76631
Delaware74552
Dubois70812
Vigo69911
Noble68829
Boone68746
Hancock68339
Jackson5965
Warrick58830
Shelby56527
LaGrange56310
Grant52930
Dearborn51228
Morgan49334
Clinton4444
Henry40620
Wayne38510
White37611
Montgomery35921
Lawrence35227
Harrison34823
Decatur34132
Putnam3128
Daviess27720
Miami2772
Scott27210
Jasper2552
Greene25434
Franklin24615
DeKalb2384
Gibson2314
Jennings22712
Steuben2133
Ripley2138
Carroll1962
Fayette1947
Perry18713
Posey1790
Starke1787
Wells1742
Orange17424
Fulton1722
Wabash1703
Jefferson1672
Knox1610
Whitley1556
Tipton14312
Washington1421
Sullivan1381
Spencer1373
Clay1245
Huntington1243
Randolph1244
Newton12010
Adams1092
Owen991
Jay920
Rush854
Pulaski811
Fountain742
Brown741
Blackford652
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike590
Vermillion580
Switzerland530
Parke511
Martin480
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0206