Peter Beck isn't shy about his ambition to make Rocket Lab more than a launch provider. He wants it to be a vertically integrated company that also makes spacecraft and sends them into orbit. With the announcement Wednesday of a new production plant to produce satellite components on a greater scale, the company that he founded in 2006 has made another significant step towards that goal.
This facility will produce reaction wheels and critical attitude control systems for satellites. Rocket Lab claims that the facility will be ready for use in the fourth quarter. It will be able to produce up to 2,000 reaction wheel per year. Rocket Lab has approximately 500 satellites that are ready to receive these components, as spacecraft typically have three to four reaction wheels. Rocket Lab CEO Beck stated that these are large quantities of supply for multiple constellations in a recent interview with TechCrunch.
This news represents a significant expansion of Rocket Labs space system business. It is already busy with the Photon spacecraft. The company also acquired Sinclair Interplanetary, a major satellite hardware manufacturer. Rocket Lab offers custom Photons to individual customers. It will also be designing vehicles for future launches with Varda Space Industries, a space manufacturing startup. Two Photons will be sent to Mars as part of a forthcoming science mission.
Spacecraft components were traditionally made on a scale of hundreds or tens of thousands because there were so many obstacles to getting to orbit. Rocket Lab's innovations have helped to lower the cost of space launch, so more companies are now able to launch projects into space. This means that there are more satellites and more reaction wheels. There are currently around 200 Rocket Lab-made response wheels in orbit today. 2,000 is quite a leap in scale.
Rocket Labs goal to be a fully integrated space service company is all of this. Rocket Lab claims that customers will see a significant reduction in manufacturing lead times due to vertical integration. Beck stated that the company faced months-long reaction wheel delivery times when it first began producing Photons. This effectively delayed their timeline for launching one into orbit.
He stated that if the space economy is to expand in the manner it has been predicted, this must be addressed. This is a major problem that must be addressed. This is the root of the entire space supply chain. Small-scale operations are unable to produce volumes at any scale.
Rocket Lab will hire more than 16 positions to support its space systems division and new production facility. The company stated in a statement, that all production tools and environmental testing stations will be automated and that metal machining can be performed unattended. These techniques are in line with Rocket Lab's other manufacturing processes. Beck cited Rosie the Robot, a keystone of Rocket Labs ability to use automation to scale up its products quickly, as an example.
Beck kept it quiet about whether the company plans to scale up production of other components for spacecraft, such as the star trackers navigation device, which Rocket Lab also manufactures. He did however say that the company will introduce new products, but he refused to give details. Becks' stated goal when he founded the space systems division was that all things that go to space should include a Rocket Lab logo.
Rocket Labs has a larger goal: to become an end-to–end space company. This includes combining launch services and spacecraft manufacturing to create in-orbit infrastructure.
He said that when you combine these things, you get an extremely powerful platform you can use for infrastructure development in orbit and eventually to provide services.
Beck was hesitant to answer questions about the services he thought of. Instead, he chose to use a well-known example of a competitor: SpaceX's Starlink internet satellite project. It is built and launched by SpaceX. Rocket Lab did not say what ventures he might pursue. He said that vertical integration allows the company to test new business models.
We can experiment at very little marginal cost.