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

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

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.

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Pejman Nozad, a founding managing partner at Pear VC, joins this episode of LA Venture to discuss Pear VC's current initiatives, including its accelerator and fellowships. He's seen as one of the most successful angel investors in the area, and for good reason: he has made more than 300 investments in his lifetime.

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Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
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Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.