ABL Space Hits Unicorn Status, Scores National Space Agency Contract

Rocket launcher ABL Space Systems has achieved unicorn status, announcing a close of a $170 million Series B round, bringing the company's total valuation to $1.3 billion.

The funds come four years after ABL's founding and before its first planned launch into space in the second quarter of this year.

The El Segundo-based company said it's lined up 10 new customers, including the National Space Agency and U.S. Defense Department, for its launch vehicle called the RS1. Five of those new clients are commercial. They're on top of L2 Aerospace, ABL's first customer.

The rocket is able to be transported in shipping containers and can be sent from anywhere around the globe. It will launch two of L2 Aerospace's spacecraft into orbit.

ABL Space is competing against a few other private companies developing rockets. Virgin Orbit launched its LauncherOne rocket into orbit earlier this year. Relativity Space and Firefly Aerospace have launches scheduled for this year as well.

ABL chief executive Harry O'Hanley told CNBC that the additional funds will allow the company to scale up their launch cadence for future demand.

"It will also let us carefully start exploring more opportunities both in space tech and other domains," O'Hanley told CNBC.

T. Rowe Price Associates led the round, and Fidelity Management & Research and an unnamed global investment management firm joined as new investors.

Prior to this announcement, ABL had raised $49 million, with investors Venrock, New Science Ventures, Lynett Capital and Lockheed Martin Ventures. It also raised $44.5 million through contracts awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX, with participation from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

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