Rocket Lab Buys Solar Panel Maker SolAero for $80M to Power Its Ships in Outer Space

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Rocket Lab Buys Solar Panel Maker SolAero for $80M to Power Its Ships in Outer Space
Rocket Lab Improves Payload Capacity

Long Beach-based rocket maker and SpaceX competitor Rocket Lab agreed to pay $80 million to acquire SolAero, a New Mexico-based company that makes solar cells and panels to power devices in outer space.

The transaction is expected to close by the first quarter of 2022.

SolAero was the maker of the solar panels that powered NASA’s Mars lander Insight and the Ingenuity craft, which completed the first controlled flight and landing on Mars earlier this year. Since then, their technologies have been in high demand.

With this purchase, Rocket Lab is ensuring it will have access to durable power cells capable of standing up to the rigors of space travel -- ahead of its competitors.

In an investor presentation Tuesday, Rocket Lab said it expects SolAero to generate approximately $20 million in revenue per quarter. As of Nov. 30, SolAero had $153 million worth of backlogged contracts it has yet to deliver on.

Rocket Lab is developing a twin spacecraft to go to Mars for NASA, and it could benefit from owning a stake in a power cell company when the time comes to accelerate manufacturing on it and other projects – which include its 3D-printed rocket the Electron, and the larger rocket it’s developing called the Neutron, expected to be operational by 2024.

SolAero said in a press release it plans to use Rocket Lab’s existing manufacturing resources to produce more space power products and “boost high-volume production.”

“The strategic rationale for acquiring SolAero is consistent with our stated strategy of expanding our product portfolio,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said during an investor presentation Tuesday. “We’re excited about the cross-selling opportunities in combining these leading spacecraft solar power solutions with our existing Electron launch services and our spacecraft components, software and service offerings.”

Beck said the acquisition could have a “meaningful” impact for Rocket Lab in lowering cost and shortening production lead times.

“We believe solar is a foundational building block and a differentiator in spacecraft design,” Beck said. “SolAero brings significant revenue scale by supplying one of the highest-valued components in the spacecraft, and it brings deep commercial, federal and government customer relationships.”

SolAero was founded in 1998. The Albuquerque-based company has 425 employees and its products have been used in over 1,000 successful space missions including the Insight probe and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018.

Rocket Lab will also gain access to the roughly 155,000 square-foot production facility in New Mexico operated by SolAero. The production facility and SolAero’s team will continue to stay in New Mexico and be led by its CEO Brad Clevenger.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

Read moreShow less

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

Read moreShow less

PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.