Author Topic: Rocket Lab (RKLB) - Finally a decent space company that we can invest in?  (Read 28562 times)

Herbert Derp

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As someone who has been following the space industry for years, I was super excited when Rocket Lab announced that they are going public on March 1st. Since SpaceX has vowed not to become a public company anytime soon, this leaves us with very limited opportunities to invest in rocket companies.

Unlike most space companies, Rocket Lab has been launching rockets into orbit for the last three years, and has successfully launched sixteen rockets and 97 satellites into orbit. In comparison, most other well-known rocket companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin still haven't launched anything into orbit. Even Virgin Orbit has only launched a single rocket into orbit as of January 2021. In other words, Rocket Lab has a multi-year lead over the competition.

Rocket Lab plans to go public in Q2 2021 with a valuation of $4.1B. In comparison, another publicly-traded space company, Virgin Galactic, is currently valued at $7.16B despite still not commercializing anything after 17 years of R&D and launching nothing into orbit. Even when it is ready, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spaceplane will be incapable of reaching orbit. In comparison, Rocket Lab has been flying commercial flights into orbit for three years.

Furthermore, Rocket Lab also builds spacecraft and satellites. Their Photon spacecraft will send probes to the moon in 2021 and Venus in 2023.

Also, Rocket Lab is run by Peter Beck, an engineer-CEO who reminds me a lot of Elon Musk. He is obsessed with building rockets and has been building things since graduating from high school. So, definitely someone who knows his stuff, unlike say, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace. This is exactly the kind of person that I want to run an innovative space company.

Rocket Lab has achieved various awesome innovations, such as getting their 3D-printed, electric powered rocket engine into production on commercial flights. They have also recovered their first booster from space, and aim to start reusing their boosters in the near future. This will give them a cost advantage over competitors such as Virgin Orbit who currently do not recover and reuse their rockets.

Finally, Rocket Lab is aiming big with their next rocket, Neutron, which will be similar to SpaceX's Falcon 9. They aim to have their first launch in 2024. It is designed to launch satellite mega constellations and even humans into orbit, and should be capable of economically launching 98 percent of all planned satellites from now until 2029.

The space industry will soon be worth over a trillion dollars, and with their vertically integrated portfolio of launch and spacecraft products, Rocket Lab seems to be one of the front runners for capturing a piece of this pie.

The ticker symbol is currently VACQ, which will change to RKLB when Rocket Lab completes their SPAC merger in Q2 2021.

Definitely an interesting opportunity, given Rocket Lab's proven track record and multi-year lead over the competition. Plus, investment options in the space industry are currently very limited, and lots of investors will be throwing lots of money at a very small group of companies. Just look at Virgin Galactic's stock price for evidence of this behavior! Furthermore, ARK Invest will soon launch a new space-focused fund called ARKX which will funnel even more money into these companies.

Here is a list of catalysts which I believe can drive the Rocket Lab share price higher over the next 12 months:
1. Massive investor interest in the space industry
2. Launch of 100th satellite into orbit
3. Moon mission
4. Further progress towards Electron booster recovery and reuse
5. Announcement of location for Neutron rocket factory
6. Launch of ARKX Space Exploration ETF
7. Free publicity for space industry from SpaceX

Any thoughts?

More news articles:

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/spacex-is-a-pioneer-a-similar-company-you-can-actually-invest-in-is-rocket-lab-11614957894

https://www.space.com/rocket-lab-neutron-peter-beck-interview

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/03/02/1020212/rocket-lab-could-be-spacexs-biggest-rival-neutron-falcon-9/

Official investor presentation:

https://www.rocketlabusa.com/assets/Rocket-Lab-Investor-Presentation.pdf

Promo video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agqxJw5ISdk
« Last Edit: August 26, 2021, 11:52:46 AM by Herbert Derp »

SparkyPeanut

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Re: Rocket Lab - Finally a decent space company that we can invest in?
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2021, 08:47:45 PM »
Great post. Rocket Labs is a great company & I plan to get some shares but I spent more than I intended on HOL which is the Astra SPAC (averaging down)!

How do you feel about Astra?! 

Herbert Derp

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Re: Rocket Lab - Finally a decent space company that we can invest in?
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2021, 08:59:39 PM »
Astra looks like a very similar company to Rocket Lab, but seems to suffer from the same problem as most of the space companies in that they have yet to commercialize anything nor launch anything to orbit. Correct me if I'm wrong! They have the same big ideas and big plans as Rocket Lab, but without the proven track record. Launching stuff into space is really hard, and I'm looking for solid proof that a company can execute before I invest.

Here is a good video about Astra vs Rocket Lab:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plGGzpYD6oQ
« Last Edit: March 09, 2021, 10:09:16 PM by Herbert Derp »

SparkyPeanut

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In case you haven't seen this -

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-launch-service-contract-for-tropics-mission-to-study-storm-processes

Feb 26, 2021
CONTRACT RELEASE C21-003
NASA Awards Launch Service Contract for TROPICS Mission to Study Storm Processes
NASA has selected Astra Space Inc. to provide a launch service for the agencyís Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission. The TROPICS mission consists of a constellation of six CubeSats and will increase the scientific communityís understanding of storm processes.

Herbert Derp

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Another video on Astra vs Rocket Lab:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-SmtAPi-EQ

ice_beard

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Someone needs to explain to me what is the profit strategy for these space companies.

I understand satellite launching, but really how big of a market is that? 
Please don't say space tourism because I cannot imagine the capital needed to produce a "viable" option will be able to ever be profitable.  Mining?  Mining is difficult on earth.  That seems like something that will not be happening within my lifetime.  I think it's great that space exploration is happening outside of government programs like NASA but this really feels like a frothy sector.

I really don't understand the space.  Pun not intended. 

Michael in ABQ

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Someone needs to explain to me what is the profit strategy for these space companies.

I understand satellite launching, but really how big of a market is that? 
Please don't say space tourism because I cannot imagine the capital needed to produce a "viable" option will be able to ever be profitable.  Mining?  Mining is difficult on earth.  That seems like something that will not be happening within my lifetime.  I think it's great that space exploration is happening outside of government programs like NASA but this really feels like a frothy sector.

I really don't understand the space.  Pun not intended.

The internet wasn't profitable until the infrastructure was in place. Google, Facebook, etc. couldn't exist without it and would have been unimaginable 30-40 years ago. 30-40 years from now what might be possible with relatively cheap access to space? We can venture some guesses, but it may be something like the next Google that we could barely conceive of. The two richest people on Earth are in the space industry. I predict the first trillionaire is going to make their fortune in space. A single small asteroid can contain the equivalent of multiple years of metal production on Earth. Tons of precious metals plus more basic elements like iron and nickel. There's also energy production - setup a solar satellite in space that's multiple times more efficient and could be many times larger than a field of solar panels here, then beam the energy down to Earth via microwaves. Communications, manufacturing in microgravity that can't be accomplished on Earth, remote sensing, etc. The list goes on and on.

Herbert Derp

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Someone needs to explain to me what is the profit strategy for these space companies.

I understand satellite launching, but really how big of a market is that? 
Please don't say space tourism because I cannot imagine the capital needed to produce a "viable" option will be able to ever be profitable.  Mining?  Mining is difficult on earth.  That seems like something that will not be happening within my lifetime.  I think it's great that space exploration is happening outside of government programs like NASA but this really feels like a frothy sector.

I really don't understand the space.  Pun not intended.

Some articles that you might find interesting:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/topstocks/the-big-3-stocks-to-buy-for-the-emergence-of-the-dollar2-trillion-space-economy/ar-BB1cU79K

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/09/how-to-invest-in-space-companies-complete-guide-to-rockets-satellites-and-more.html

https://www.investopedia.com/how-musk-s-spacex-could-become-aerospace-giant-worth-usd120-billion-4770741

https://www.space.com/30213-asteroid-mining-planetary-resources-2025.html

Herbert Derp

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« Last Edit: April 10, 2021, 07:40:54 PM by Herbert Derp »

BicycleB

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Here are some talks / interviews with the CEO if you are interesting in understanding his mindset and plans for the company:

Small rockets are the next space revolution | Peter Beck

A conversation with Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck

A conversation with Rocket Lab's Peter Beck on recovering Electron

I like this pick!

I've been following the sector idly from a couple of other directions, simply because it intrigues me. I wasn't thinking about investment because I don't normally invest in individual stocks. But now I'm tempted! Thanks for posting this thread.

ETA: And I placed a small order to purchase. Will update after it resolves. A new adventure begins.

ETA 4/11: In at about $11/share. Roughly 2% of financial assets fwiw.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2021, 07:31:24 AM by BicycleB »

Herbert Derp

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Good luck BicycleB!

Some recent news.

Rocket Lab successfully launched their 19th Electron rocket and 100th satellite to orbit! This includes a test of their Photon spacecraft which will go to the moon on a later mission. The mission was livestreamed and included an interview with Peter Beck about Neutron.

More business is coming in--Rocket Lab just signed a contract to launch eight more satellites for BlackSky in 2021.

Rocket Lab has given an update on their plans for booster reusability. They plan to recover the booster from their next launch in May 2021 as they work on improving their heat shield. This booster will not be caught by a helicopter and instead will land in the ocean. They plan at least one more ocean splashdown test and design iteration before they start helicopter catching.

Finally, Rocket Lab has become able to build a new Electron booster in just 26 days. Last November, Peter Beck said Rocket Lab was building Electron boosters in under 30 days, and the goal is to get production to a rate of one rocket every 18 days. The Electron rocket was apparently designed to be the "worldís most manufacturable launch vehicle". Meanwhile, Neutron is supposed to be the "most reusable launch vehicle", more details on the Neutron design should be announced soon.

Links:

https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2021/03/rocket-lab-photon-pathfinder/

https://spacenews.com/blacksky-strikes-deal-with-rocket-lab-to-launch-eight-more-satellites-in-2021/

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/08/rocket-lab-may-launch-booster-recovery-aiming-for-spacex-reusability.html

https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/08/rocket-lab-to-recover-the-booster-from-its-next-electron-launch-as-it-pursue-reusability/

https://mobile.twitter.com/RocketLab/status/1377450285816184835
« Last Edit: April 10, 2021, 11:47:11 PM by Herbert Derp »

alcon835

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I plan to dive deep into all of their documents since there is a little time before the merger and things are currently dropping. This is definitely the kind of long-term play I like and the price seems pretty bonkers low.

My question is, what happens to VACQ after the merger? It just straight convers over 1:1? Also, what is the likelihood that they finish the SPAC acquisition and then start adding shares? 40M shares seems really, really low to me. If I buy in with only 40M shares, dilution seems like a really high likelihood over the next several years as they build up their technology and business. How likely is their valuation going to keep up with the inevitable dilution? And do you think they'll be able to start earning meaningful revenues in the next 5 years?

Again, this stuff may all be answered in the documents I have tabbed to read through, but they leave me questioning if I should invest or not and if so, how much. I don't want to buy in and then immediately be heavily diluted.

lutorm

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Unlike most space companies, Rocket Lab has been launching rockets into orbit for the last three years...
You somehow forgot the companies that actually launch real rockets in your list there: SpaceX, ULA, Arianespace, Roscosmos.

You can certainly invest in ULA, through Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. I dunno about Arianespace, but I can't imagine they're not public. SpaceX and Roscosmos is a bit harder...

Herbert Derp

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You somehow forgot the companies that actually launch real rockets in your list there: SpaceX, ULA, Arianespace, Roscosmos.

You can certainly invest in ULA, through Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. I dunno about Arianespace, but I can't imagine they're not public. SpaceX and Roscosmos is a bit harder...

Yeah, SpaceX is the obvious leader here but they have vowed not to become a public company for many years. Of the other companies you mentioned, I think the only one worth investing in is Lockheed Martin, and space technology is just a small part of what they do. All of those companies besides SpaceX are "old space", which means they are slow and inefficient and have the wrong mindset in general for sustainably getting humans into space.

Old space players like ULA, Arianespace, and Roscosmos are very far behind in terms of technology and still can't match the performance of the Falcon 9 over five years after Falcon 9 first landed successfully back on Earth. This is despite their rockets being direct competitors to the Falcon 9. They are being left behind and seem to lack the means or the resolve to bring their technology into the 21st century.

Five years after the first Falcon 9 landed, ULA and Arianespace have not even came up with a plan to build a reusable rocket. Roscosmos has, but their rocket won't be ready until 2026. To old space, reusable rockets are still "impossible". I believe that Rocket Lab can beat all of the old space players to the reusable rocket market with their next generation Neutron rocket which will be on par with the Falcon 9. Just based on the fact that Rocket Lab has a plan to build a reusable rocket, they are in a similar place to Roscosmos and ahead of ULA and Arianespace.

Here is some additional reading to understand what old space is and why I am not interested in investing in it.

https://wanderingalpha.com/new-space-vs-old-space

https://spacenews.com/op-ed-old-space-meets-new-space/
« Last Edit: April 21, 2021, 05:09:11 PM by Herbert Derp »

lutorm

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Here is some additional reading to understand what old space is and why I am not interested in investing in it.

You don't have to convince me to not invest in old space. However, I'm curious what you think the competitive advantage rocket labs holds over SpaceX? It seems to me that unless RocketLabs (or Relativity, or ABL, for that matter) has a big-ass ace up their sleeve, there's no way they'll beat SpaceX unless the latter screw up big time. But then again, I'm partial...

Herbert Derp

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Oh, there's no way Rocket Lab or anyone else is beating SpaceX. SpaceX has a massive lead on everyone. But I don't think that SpaceX will have a monopoly on space. They aren't even competing in the small rocket launch business where Rocket Lab has been focusing their efforts. The outer space market is going to be huge, and there's plenty of room for multiple players.

One example of this room is that over the next decade, various companies will be launching their own fleets of internet satellites to compete with Starlink. These satellites are only designed to last a few years and will need to be continuously replaced. The companies involved won't want to fund their competition, this is why Amazon won't pay SpaceX to launch their internet satellites, even though SpaceX can launch them for cheaper. Same for OneWeb, they won't pay SpaceX to launch their satellites either. Since Blue Origin is closely associated with Amazon, they will face the same problem. This is a great opportunity for Rocket Lab and Neutron!
« Last Edit: April 21, 2021, 05:10:40 PM by Herbert Derp »

Herbert Derp

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Another awesome interview with Peter Beck just got posted on YouTube! I can't wait to hear more about Neutron!

A chat with Rocket Lab's CEO Peter Beck about Neutron, Electron recovery and Rocket Lab's future!

Herbert Derp

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Unfortunately, Rocket Lab's last mission was a failure. This is the second time in a year that the second stage of the rocket failed. Interesting, because it seems that most companies seem to have problems with the first stage, not the second stage which is smaller and much simpler.

The good news is that Rocket Lab was able to recover the first stage as planned, and their progress towards first stage reusability has not been impacted. The bad news is that this failure damages Rocket Lab's reputation and makes customers less likely to choose them over the various competitor rocket companies.

If you are interested in learning about the competition, here's an in-depth video.

Personally, I still believe that Rocket Lab is ahead of most of the competition and remain an investor.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2021, 05:54:08 PM by Herbert Derp »

alcon835

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Not a great outcome, but not unexpected to happen from time-to-time as the industry figures these things out. I'm curious what kind of repayments, if any, Rocket Labs will need to do as recompense in the contract.

kei te pai

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Rocket Lab operates in NZ, and has just been fined nearly $100000 for their failure to follow employment law. Just as a side note.

alcon835

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Rocket Lab operates in NZ, and has just been fined nearly $100000 for their failure to follow employment law. Just as a side note.

I found this article on it: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/443628/rocket-lab-ordered-to-pay-100-000-for-employee-s-unjustified-dismissal

Seems like they are still working through things? The end of the article makes it sound like Rocket Labs is disputing the fine still. 

Telecaster

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The internet wasn't profitable until the infrastructure was in place. Google, Facebook, etc. couldn't exist without it and would have been unimaginable 30-40 years ago. 30-40 years from now what might be possible with relatively cheap access to space? We can venture some guesses, but it may be something like the next Google that we could barely conceive of. The two richest people on Earth are in the space industry. I predict the first trillionaire is going to make their fortune in space. A single small asteroid can contain the equivalent of multiple years of metal production on Earth. Tons of precious metals plus more basic elements like iron and nickel. There's also energy production - setup a solar satellite in space that's multiple times more efficient and could be many times larger than a field of solar panels here, then beam the energy down to Earth via microwaves. Communications, manufacturing in microgravity that can't be accomplished on Earth, remote sensing, etc. The list goes on and on.

And don't forget Paul Allen's estate too.  But here's my question.  The Internet revolutionized everything and created countless millionaires.  But Google wasn't the first search engine by a long shot.  Altavista, Excite, Magellan, Yahoo! and many more.  Being first in the space was not nearly good enough. 

Similar story for airlines and airplane manufacturers.  There were dozens and dozens of each at one time, now those numbers have been reduced to a small number of players.  Of the existing major airlines, only Southwest and Alaska have not gone bankrupt, and it was close thing for Alaska.  The other remaining majors have all declared bankruptcy at least once, some multiple times.   Big players like Pan Am, Eastern, and TWA don't even exist anymore. 

 You get my point.  Just being early isn't enough, and being a major player isn't enough either.  I'm not saying don't invest, I'm saying along with the huge potential upside is huge potential downside so plan accordingly. 

PDXTabs

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The internet wasn't profitable until the infrastructure was in place. Google, Facebook, etc. couldn't exist without it and would have been unimaginable 30-40 years ago. 30-40 years from now what might be possible with relatively cheap access to space? We can venture some guesses, but it may be something like the next Google that we could barely conceive of. The two richest people on Earth are in the space industry. I predict the first trillionaire is going to make their fortune in space. A single small asteroid can contain the equivalent of multiple years of metal production on Earth. Tons of precious metals plus more basic elements like iron and nickel. There's also energy production - setup a solar satellite in space that's multiple times more efficient and could be many times larger than a field of solar panels here, then beam the energy down to Earth via microwaves. Communications, manufacturing in microgravity that can't be accomplished on Earth, remote sensing, etc. The list goes on and on.

And don't forget Paul Allen's estate too.  But here's my question.  The Internet revolutionized everything and created countless millionaires.  But Google wasn't the first search engine by a long shot.  Altavista, Excite, Magellan, Yahoo! and many more.  Being first in the space was not nearly good enough. 

Sure, but Yahoo IPOed in 1996 and their stock eventually climbed from $33 to $475 over four years. Later it was acquired by Verizon. If that's what happens to my VACQ I'd be fine.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Yahoo!
« Last Edit: June 03, 2021, 03:37:42 PM by PDXTabs »

AlanStache

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Might be interesting to put a small amount on them.  They do seem to be adult about the enterprise, and understand they are not making website or an app. 

What was your issues with bigelow?  They have hardware attached to the ISS, granted they laid everyone off last year...  Always got the feeling that they had a good concept and were right about it but just to early to the game. 

Having worked in the industry I have not heard good things about Boeing or Lockheed, both from there government customers and when working in parallel with them. 

Herbert Derp

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My issue with Bigelow Aerospace is that their founder and president (Robert Bigelow) has a background in budget hotels and real estate development, not engineering or aerospace. He's also into stuff like pseudoscience and UFO conspiracy theories. I don't think he has the right mindset to run a successful aerospace company. Go on Glassdoor and read about their company culture.

In other news, Rocket Lab is going to Mars! This is great news for their spacecraft business!

Herbert Derp

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Another oft-hyped New Space company worth comparing to Rocket Lab is Momentus. Momentus is focusing on the spacecraft and space services business and is developing three different spacecraft which can move customer payloads around in space.

Momentus still hasn't made it to space, and they recently announced that all of their missions have been delayed until 2022 due to political issues. Space is hard!

As we know, Rocket Lab also has spacecraft and space services as part of their business plan. You might say that Momentus' business plan is a subset of Rocket Lab's business plan. Although Momentus' Vigoride spacecraft has yet to make it into space, Rocket Lab has already launched their similar Photon spacecraft into space three times where it was able to successfully complete various missions! Photon will be going to the Moon this year, and they already have missions booked for Venus and Mars. Rocket Lab is more than just rockets!
« Last Edit: June 19, 2021, 02:31:47 PM by Herbert Derp »

ysette9

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You somehow forgot the companies that actually launch real rockets in your list there: SpaceX, ULA, Arianespace, Roscosmos.

You can certainly invest in ULA, through Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. I dunno about Arianespace, but I can't imagine they're not public. SpaceX and Roscosmos is a bit harder...

Yeah, SpaceX is the obvious leader here but they have vowed not to become a public company for many years. Of the other companies you mentioned, I think the only one worth investing in is Lockheed Martin, and space technology is just a small part of what they do. All of those companies besides SpaceX are "old space", which means they are slow and inefficient and have the wrong mindset in general for sustainably getting humans into space.

Old space players like ULA, Arianespace, and Roscosmos are very far behind in terms of technology and still can't match the performance of the Falcon 9 over five years after Falcon 9 first landed successfully back on Earth. This is despite their rockets being direct competitors to the Falcon 9. They are being left behind and seem to lack the means or the resolve to bring their technology into the 21st century.

Five years after the first Falcon 9 landed, ULA and Arianespace have not even came up with a plan to build a reusable rocket. Roscosmos has, but their rocket won't be ready until 2026. To old space, reusable rockets are still "impossible". I believe that Rocket Lab can beat all of the old space players to the reusable rocket market with their next generation Neutron rocket which will be on par with the Falcon 9. Just based on the fact that Rocket Lab has a plan to build a reusable rocket, they are in a similar place to Roscosmos and ahead of ULA and Arianespace.

Here is some additional reading to understand what old space is and why I am not interested in investing in it.

https://wanderingalpha.com/new-space-vs-old-space

https://spacenews.com/op-ed-old-space-meets-new-space/
The first link for me didnít work. The second link was interesting to me first because it mentioned Skybox and being sold to Google. I spent my career in Old Space and had some collŤgues and friends who left to go to Skybox when we were all working in Palo Alto and the environs. It was a great deal for them when Google bought them out because they got the best of both worlds: working in space (so damn cool!) and all the perks of working for Google that aerospace companies canít match.

The article was written in 2015 so it didnít I close the part where Google shut down the whole space venture so the Skybox team scattered and had to find new jobs within Google or go to another company if they wanted to stay in the space industry.

The article also mentioned Iridium. I worked for a company that made the first set of iridium satellites. The article leaves out the part where the company went bankrupt and was bought for pennies on the dollar by investors. They made money but the original investors who put up all the money the build and launch the original constellation didnít.

I canít speak objectively since I havenít worked for New Space but I have friends who do. Iíve heard stories of overwork and lower pay and tough working conditions. One friend has been a contractor over and over before finally landing a full time permanent position with a New Space company.

Iíd love to see new space and old space and everything in between succeed because it is just so damn cool. When pushing the edge of technology there is a time where the investment doesnít produce returns or you donít know when and if it will. We have benefited greatly from space but sometimes it took a long time and was in ways the original engineers didnít envision (the velcro on my toddlerís shoes, for example).

I struggled against the bureaucracy and slowness in Old Space and constantly argued for improvement and change. Iíll admit though that while I saw plenty that was just inefficient there is also a very justified reason for being slow to change. Space is hard and unforgiving and expensive in ways that most terrestrial-based industries canít understand. Medical devices and the auto industry gets close but even then you have chances to fix errors. Aside from the space station and Hubble, if you screw up in space then you just lit a fire of hundreds of millions of dollars with nothing to show for it. That breeds conservatism. Iíve seen a hundred-million dollar mission fail because of a faulty $50 electronic component like something youíd buy at Radio Shack.

Iím not sure if I have a conclusion. I find new space interesting and I hope they succeed. But I wouldnít be surprised at all if it takes longer than expected and the path is littered with the bodies of more dead companies along the way than other industries.

BicycleB

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@yseette9, thanks for the personal comment. Very informative!

I go back and forth about the few hundred shares I bought. For now the stock value has been sitting like a bump on a log while it seems like the rest of the market is, well, a rocket. Pretty exciting to feel "invested" in missions to Mars and Venus, though. :)

gooki

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As much as I love to see Rocket Lab succeed, any company that goes public via a SPAC is instantly removed from my list of companies to invest in.


Herbert Derp

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On the topic of Rocket Lab competitors, check out Relativity Space. They just announced that they are building a fully reusable, fully 3D printed mini-Starship the size of a Falcon 9 that is planned to launch in 2024:
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/08/relativity-space-raises-650-million-for-3d-printed-spacex-competitor.html

That being said, Relativity Space has yet to launch anything into space, so take that 2024 timeline with a grain of salt. Looks like Rocket Lab's upcoming Neutron rocket is getting some more competition! I think we are going to see how valuable Rocket Lab's years of experience with space launches are as they enter competition with more of these younger and inexperienced companies.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2021, 12:12:51 PM by Herbert Derp »

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gooki

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Starlink actually offers good performance, so customers will be happy to pay for it, plus they have the lowest cost satellites, and the lowest cost launch platform.

Herbert Derp

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I'm trying to figure out the new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications companies.  Starlink, OneWeb etc.

The field is littered with the dead, Iridium (pre-bankrupcy), Teledesic (with Bill Gates as funder) etc.

The more recent consensus is "well, it could work this time if...."

It doesn't seem like a _compelling_ set of business cases.   Especially for  the consumer market.

Comments?

Starlink is different because they are putting much more of their satellites at a much lower orbit than the competition. Lower orbit means much better performance, since the satellites are closer. However, there is a significant drawback to putting them close, which is that the coverage of the satellites becomes much smaller. This means that you need to have much more satellites in orbit to achieve the same coverage as a constellation in higher orbit. Imagine shining a giant flashlight from a satellite down onto the Earth below: if the satellite is close, the "coverage cone" of light will only cover a teeny tiny circle of coverage on the Earth, but if it is far, the cone will cover a big huge circle on Earth. Because of this, it has been financially infeasible for any satellite internet company to launch a fleet of satellites into low Earth orbit due to the high number of satellites needed--the teeny tiny coverage cone of each satellite means you need tons of them. That is, until SpaceX came along with its reusable rockets and started being able to launch satellites for a fraction of the cost of the competition.

For example, Gogo Inflight Internet (the internet you get on airplanes) uses a fleet of about 70 satellites in Geostationary orbit (GEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO). Because these satellites are so high up, Gogo can cover a large surface area on Earth with only these 70 satellites.

In comparison, Starlink plans to operate a fleet of up to 42,000 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). Due to the high number of satellites and how close they are to the ground, the bandwidth (number of connections and volume of data) and latency (response time) of the network is far superior to Gogo's network. In comparison, Gogo can only connect to a small number of customers due to the tiny size of its fleet of satellites, and the performance is much worse due to the limited bandwidth of the small constellation as well as the vast distance from the surface of the Earth.

Ultimately, what this means is that due to how many Starlink satellites there are and how close they are to Earth, Starlink will have much better performance and be able to serve far more customers than any of the competition. Furthermore, only SpaceX has rockets which are economical enough to launch such a huge constellation into orbit. SpaceX already charges much less than the competition to launch stuff into orbit, but their true costs are even lower. SpaceX just has no reason to lower prices that low, since they are already the lowest. But for the purposes of launching its own satellites, SpaceX is able to fund its own launches for much less than any other company, even if that other company purchased launches from SpaceX. That's the value of SpaceX and Starlink being vertically integrated within the same company, since Starlink can utilize much lower "private" launch costs.

Given all of this, it is easy to see why so many predecessors to Starlink have gone bankrupt. Their launch costs were simply too high, and the performance of their networks were too poor to attract enough customers to pay for the high launch costs. SpaceX hopes to hit a "sweet spot", where the high performance of their network is able to attract a large amount of customers, and between all the paying customers plus their far lower launch costs, they will be able to afford to launch a network of 40,000 satellites without going bankrupt.

So, TL;DR is:

Starlink
* More satellites (like, tons more)
* Very low orbits (very low LEO)
* High bandwith (more connections, more data transferred)
* Low latency (faster response time)
* Lower launch costs due to vertical integration with SpaceX, can afford to launch 40,000+ satellites into low Earth orbit
* Can support more customers, more revenue
 
Other satellite constellations
* Less satellites (less than 100, compared to Starlink's planned 40,000+)
* Much higher orbits (MEO and GEO)
* Low bandwith (less connections, less data transferred)
* High latency (slower response time)
* Higher launch costs due to having to buy 3rd party rocket launches on the public market, cannot afford to launch 40,000+ satellites into low Earth orbit
* Can support less customers, less revenue

A few other interesting takeaways are due to the extreme low orbits of Starlink, the satellites will naturally slow down by brushing with the Earth's upper atmosphere and fall back to Earth in only a few years. This means much less problems with Kessler syndrome, since if the satellites collide and explode, the debris will be gone in just a few years. In comparison, satellite debris in just slightly higher orbits than Starlink can take decades to centuries to fall back to Earth. This also means that fleets of satellites like Starlink will require constant rocket launches to continuously replenish the satellites as they fall back to Earth every few years. In other words, between the huge amount of satellites and continual replenishment of said satellites, it will be a big business for launch providers like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.

So I hope this explains why Starlink is so special and important, and why companies like Blue Origin and Rocket Lab are rushing to build rockets which are economically capable of launching large satellite constellations into orbit.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2021, 01:13:23 AM by Herbert Derp »

markbike528CBX

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@Herbert Derp , thanks for the extensive reply.

Yep, I get that Starlink is _far_ more likely to get it right than prior attempts, but I'm still not _compelled_ by the better numbers.

The "Cost calculations for large LEO constellations" side bar of the mckinsey.com link talks about launch costs and a Starlink estimate of $10 billion for both spacecraft and launch.
10 billion / (5year contract*12month/year*$100/month current pricing) =1.6 million customers, so that's not that bad. 
I guess I'm ruining my argument :-)  I need to make assumptions that support the argument better.

That doesn't include ground stations to link to the rest of the internet, the pizza box antennas (1 per customer), replacement satellite costs, etc etc.

I'm not convinced for the low latency benefit. 
I once played a flight simulator over the emerging internet at 2400 baud, admittedly not well (between my skills and the lag at 2400 baud).
If you are a High Frequency Trader, then sure. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis notes the extreme effort that went into a fiber connection for low latency.  The big money can afford that, so maybe there are enough dollars to fund a few billion, and then everybody else has to keep up.

Disclosure:  I'm a mini-fanboy of SpaceX, so I hope all goes well.
 

PDXTabs

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So, TL;DR is:

Starlink
* More satellites (like, tons more)
* Very low orbits (very low LEO)
* High bandwith (more connections, more data transferred)
* Low latency (faster response time)
* Lower launch costs due to vertical integration with SpaceX, can afford to launch 40,000+ satellites into low Earth orbit
* Can support more customers, more revenue
 
Other satellite constellations
* Less satellites (less than 100, compared to Starlink's planned 40,000+)
* Much higher orbits (MEO and GEO)
* Low bandwith (less connections, less data transferred)
* High latency (slower response time)
* Higher launch costs due to having to buy 3rd party rocket launches on the public market, cannot afford to launch 40,000+ satellites into low Earth orbit
* Can support less customers, less revenue

This used to be true, it might not be true for much longer:

Lower earth orbit is getting crowded with broadband satellite constellations: Amazon.com Inc.ís Project Kuiper aims to put out 3,200 satellites, Britainís OneWeb about 700 and Telesat of Canada around 300. Russia and China are working on their own, potentially massive, constellations.

An EU official said that owning a constellation that can beam broadband internet to Earth is a strategic priority for the bloc. It is expected to publish a road map for a public-private partnership to create a broadband satellite fleet worth around Ä6 billion, equivalent to $7.19 billion, by the end of the year.

WSJ: Elon Muskís Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say

Or am I missing something?

TomTX

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Oh, there's no way Rocket Lab or anyone else is beating SpaceX. SpaceX has a massive lead on everyone. But I don't think that SpaceX will have a monopoly on space. They aren't even competing in the small rocket launch business where Rocket Lab has been focusing their efforts. The outer space market is going to be huge, and there's plenty of room for multiple players.

The biggest apparent problem for Neutron is that it's likely to be competing against a Starship which will have ~3 years of iteration and improvement if Neutron launches on time.  Neutron is a Falcon 9 competitor, without the history of success. Starship is aiming to be significantly cheaper per launch than Falcon 9, with a much larger payload.

That said, I'd pick Rocket Lab against most of the rest of the competition.

Herbert Derp

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I'm not convinced for the low latency benefit. 
I once played a flight simulator over the emerging internet at 2400 baud, admittedly not well (between my skills and the lag at 2400 baud).
If you are a High Frequency Trader, then sure. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis notes the extreme effort that went into a fiber connection for low latency.  The big money can afford that, so maybe there are enough dollars to fund a few billion, and then everybody else has to keep up.

Low latency is really important to anyone who plays multiplayer games on the Internet. Games like Halo or Call of Duty become almost impossible to play once your ping goes above 200 ms. Ideally, you want a ping of about 50-100 ms, which Starlink can deliver. This gives Starlink an important edge against the competition.


Yep, I get that Starlink is _far_ more likely to get it right than prior attempts, but I'm still not _compelled_ by the better numbers.

The "Cost calculations for large LEO constellations" side bar of the mckinsey.com link talks about launch costs and a Starlink estimate of $10 billion for both spacecraft and launch.
10 billion / (5year contract*12month/year*$100/month current pricing) =1.6 million customers, so that's not that bad. 
I guess I'm ruining my argument :-)  I need to make assumptions that support the argument better.

That doesn't include ground stations to link to the rest of the internet, the pizza box antennas (1 per customer), replacement satellite costs, etc etc.

This used to be true, it might not be true for much longer:

Lower earth orbit is getting crowded with broadband satellite constellations: Amazon.com Inc.ís Project Kuiper aims to put out 3,200 satellites, Britainís OneWeb about 700 and Telesat of Canada around 300. Russia and China are working on their own, potentially massive, constellations.

An EU official said that owning a constellation that can beam broadband internet to Earth is a strategic priority for the bloc. It is expected to publish a road map for a public-private partnership to create a broadband satellite fleet worth around Ä6 billion, equivalent to $7.19 billion, by the end of the year.

WSJ: Elon Muskís Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say

Or am I missing something?

Nobody is going to be able to launch a true competitor to Starlink until they have access to cheap, reusable rockets like the Falcon 9, Starship, New Glenn, Neutron, Terran R, or Amur. Without such a rocket, launch costs are simply too high to build a satellite constellation on that scale. Aside from the Falcon 9 and Starship which are both SpaceX rockets, none of these competitor rockets will be operational until 2024-2026. Well, maybe if we're lucky we might see the New Glenn operational by 2023, but I'm not holding my breath.

In comparison, Starlink has had paying customers since November 2020 and by 2025 will be operating a fleet of thousands of satellites with hundreds of thousands to millions of customers. By then, they will be launching Starlink on Starship which is far cheaper than Falcon 9. They will have had over half a decade to refine their satellite and user terminal technology, cutting costs by achieving economies of scale in huge factories, and perfecting advanced technology such as satellite to satellite laser link data transfer.

You might think, why wouldn't the competition launch their constellations on Falcon 9 or Starship? This is unlikely for a variety of reasons, including:
1. Buying launches on Falcon 9 or Starship is directly funding Starlink, the competition. Feeding your competitor is a bad idea.
2. SpaceX won't want to launch competitors either, and would rather book up their rockets for their own use or purposes that they aren't in competition with.
3. In order to launch on SpaceX rockets, competitors would have to give SpaceX access to their satellites, which means showing their "secret sauce" to their direct competitor, leaving them vulnerable to SpaceX copying their proprietary technology. Big no-no.

SpaceX is so far ahead that it is almost laughable. Competitors will be desperate for a "neutral" Falcon 9 / Starship alternative which isn't part of SpaceX / Starlink. "Neutral"--haha, get it? Good thing that Neutron is on the way!

Iíd give Neutron a decent lead against most of the non-SpaceX competitors. With Electron, Rocket Lab has already gained significant expertise in terms of precision guidance during booster reentry (without grid fins!) and heat shield technologies, both of which are critical for developing a reusable rocket like Neutron. You canít say the same for Relativity Space, Astra, Virgin Orbit, the Russians, the Europeans, the Japanese, or even the Chinese. They all have yet to achieve the feats that Rocket Lab has accomplished with Electron and bring a booster back from space intact. The reentry technology which Rocket Lab has developed for the Electron will be reused for the Neutron. The competition may take a year or two just to develop their own booster reentry systems.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2021, 02:55:22 AM by Herbert Derp »

markbike528CBX

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3. In order to launch on SpaceX rockets, competitors would have to give SpaceX access to their satellites, which means showing their "secret sauce" to their direct competitor, leaving them vulnerable to SpaceX copying their proprietary technology. Big no-no.

While I was watching a OneWeb launch (OneWeb 5), a promo piece from OneWeb made a big deal of their assembly-line factory and how that would help drive OneWeb's costs down.
For those of you unfamiliar with satellites, up to this point, they've been hand-built, one-offs, even with common designs, as satellites have been precious singular resources. 
Assembly-line factories are a new thing in this industry.

OneWeb is a British government/Indian private company owned entity. 
The satellites are built in Florida, USA. 
They are launched by Arianespace (French), and for the OneWeb 5 launch, launched on a Soyuz 2.1b (basically a Sputnik first stage from 1957) from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia in eastern Russia, near the border with China.

If that didn't make your head spin with complexity, I don't know what will.  These are the hoops the competitors to SpaceX have to jump through.
We will see if SpaceX's vertical integration (in a corporate sense, not the rocket stacking sense) will win out.

The launch itself was at night into a low (500ft) cloud deck, but they did have on-rocket views that were pretty cool.   
One of my FIRE hobbies is watching rocket launches.  I hadn't seen a launch from Vostochny before, so I can check that one off.   
https://everydayastronaut.com/oneweb-5-soyuz-2-1b-fregat/   
The official replay link is available which is mostly a OneWeb commercial but does give an explanation of LEO constellations general and explains some orbital insertion of the 36 satellites.
 everydayastronaut.com has pre-launch previews and a list of upcoming launches.   Also on youtube, everydayastronaut has great explanatory videos on space stuff.
https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/ is also available, but doesn't have the detailed preview.

Update, OneWeb lanuch another 36 satellites from Vostochny yesterday July 1. https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/07/01/oneweb-on-the-verge-of-commercial-service-after-another-successful-launch/

PDXTabs

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This used to be true, it might not be true for much longer:

Lower earth orbit is getting crowded with broadband satellite constellations: Amazon.com Inc.ís Project Kuiper aims to put out 3,200 satellites, Britainís OneWeb about 700 and Telesat of Canada around 300. Russia and China are working on their own, potentially massive, constellations.

An EU official said that owning a constellation that can beam broadband internet to Earth is a strategic priority for the bloc. It is expected to publish a road map for a public-private partnership to create a broadband satellite fleet worth around Ä6 billion, equivalent to $7.19 billion, by the end of the year.

WSJ: Elon Muskís Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say

Or am I missing something?

Nobody is going to be able to launch a true competitor to Starlink until they have access to cheap, reusable rockets like the Falcon 9, Starship, New Glenn, Neutron, Terran R, or Amur. Without such a rocket, launch costs are simply too high to build a satellite constellation on that scale. Aside from the Falcon 9 and Starship which are both SpaceX rockets, none of these competitor rockets will be operational until 2024-2026. Well, maybe if we're lucky we might see the New Glenn operational by 2023, but I'm not holding my breath.

Indeed, which is why I'm a Rocketlab shareholder (well, VACQ technically).

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I thought I heard that falcon 9 would stop flying once starship was operating commercially?  This seemed a bid odd but and maybe I heard wrong.

TomTX

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Some SpaceX customers (notably the US Government) will want to keep using a proven rocket like Falcon 9 for awhile even after Starship is fully operational. So, expect some transition time. Years.

Once those customers stop paying enough to keep Falcon 9 flying, I expect SpaceX to discontinue Falcon 9. Presuming (of course) that Starship meets the cost objectives stated and is cheaper to fly than Falcon 9.

Herbert Derp

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I thought I heard that falcon 9 would stop flying once starship was operating commercially?  This seemed a bid odd but and maybe I heard wrong.

Yep! Starship has almost ten times the payload capacity of Falcon 9, yet it is actually cheaper to launch! Once Starship is operational, Falcon 9 will be obsolete and SpaceX plans to focus almost exclusively on Starship. As TomTX says, there will be a lengthy transition time since stuff like Crew Dragon and certain US government payloads will continue to fly on Falcon 9 until Starship becomes human-rated and certified for sensitive government payloads.

Read more:

https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/28/spacex-aims-to-replace-falcon-9-falcon-heavy-and-dragon-with-one-spaceship/

https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-starlink-launches-starship-takeover/

This article has an in-depth comparison of Falcon 9 vs Starship:

https://everydayastronaut.com/definitive-guide-to-starship/
« Last Edit: July 03, 2021, 04:37:27 PM by Herbert Derp »

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Rocket Lab has become able to build a new Electron booster in just 26 days. Last November, Peter Beck said Rocket Lab was building Electron boosters in under 30 days, and the goal is to get production to a rate of one rocket every 18 days. The Electron rocket was apparently designed to be the "worldís most manufacturable launch vehicle". Meanwhile, Neutron is supposed to be the "most reusable launch vehicle", more details on the Neutron design should be announced soon.

Update: Rocket Lab just hit a production rate of one Electron booster every 20 days! They are super close to their goal of 18 days!

The real question, however, is if they can bring costs down. This will be needed to compete with the likes of Astra. Rocket Lab currently charges about $5-6 million per Electron launch. Astra is targeting about $2-3 million per launch and hopes to eventually get the price down to about $1 million per launch.

The fact that Rocket Lab is able to reduce their manufacturing times hints at greater automation and economies of scale, so hopefully they will be able to bring their costs more in line with what Astra is targeting. Plus, Rocket Lab aims to make Electron reusable, so weíll see how that impacts launch costs as well.

For some additional context, Virgin Orbit is currently targeting launch costs of about $12 million, so Rocket Labís prices arenít so bad compared to that.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2021, 12:48:44 PM by Herbert Derp »

alcon835

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It is exciting to watch the future take shape in front of us

Herbert Derp

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With regards to Rocket Lab increasing automation, reducing production time, and cutting costs, we just got another update from Peter Beck:
https://mobile.twitter.com/Peter_J_Beck/status/1412531974472798209

Apparently Rocket Lab's "Rosie" machine can process all of the parts of an Electron in about 12 hours. The bottleneck seems to be related to how fast the parts can be fed into the machine. There is a big difference between 12 hours and the 20 days that it currently takes Rocket Lab to manufacture an Electron. It is not clear how much of these 20 days are spent feeding Rosie, preparing the parts for processing, and other incremental work such as installing delicate electronics or electrical systems. However, it does seem clear that Rocket Lab has a clear path forward for increasing automation, reducing production time, and cutting costs.

The fact that Rocket Lab was able to design and build bespoke manufacturing equipment bodes well for their business. Vertically integrated companies who not just manufacture their own parts but also build the "machine that builds the machine" will be able to optimize their manufacturing processes and innovate much faster than those who do not (i.e. Old Space and their hundreds of subcontractors). I am very excited for Rocket Lab to carry forward this manufacturing mindset as they design and build the Neutron.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2021, 10:40:24 AM by Herbert Derp »

Herbert Derp

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Astra stock was down 13.5% today so I decided to sell off a portion of my VACQ and ARKX and start a position in ASTR. To the moon!

My space portfolio is still heavily weighted towards Rocket Lab, but now less so than before.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2021, 01:57:28 PM by Herbert Derp »

Herbert Derp

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Picked up more ASTR at 8.3 yesterday.

In recent news for Rocket Lab, they have identified and fixed the issue which caused their last mission to fail:
https://spacenews.com/rocket-lab-identifies-cause-of-electron-failure/

Their next launch is scheduled for just three days from now:
https://www.reddit.com/r/RocketLab/comments/op8t16/next_launch_notam_notification_27th_july_2021/

The site for their new Neutron rocket factory has been identified in Wallops Island, Virginia. Rocket Lab will be manufacturing the Neutron on-site and launching from Wallops Flight Facility:
https://shoredailynews.com/headlines/accomack-rezones-land-near-wallops-for-large-rocket-manufacturing-facility/

Finally, Rocket Lab has been putting the finishing touches on their third launch pad! Expect more frequent launches soon:
https://mobile.twitter.com/RocketLab/status/1407407254727393280
« Last Edit: July 24, 2021, 10:21:30 PM by Herbert Derp »

BicycleB

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Picked up more ASTR at 8.3 yesterday.


I wonder what's causing the drop.

How do you evaluate the long term value of ASTR?

Herbert Derp

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I wonder what's causing the drop.

How do you evaluate the long term value of ASTR?

Here’s a video which goes super in-depth into Astra’s plans:
https://youtu.be/6L3lKG6rtUE

Basically, Rocket Lab and Astra want to do much more than just build rockets. They want to build spacecraft and satellites as well and sell these as services to other companies who need spacecraft or satellites.

Space is hard, and to build a successful space company you need many years of R&D and tens to hundreds of millions of dollars of capital. If companies like Rocket Lab and Astra start offering their services to other companies, it will lower the barrier of entry to other companies who want to operate their own satellites or spacecraft, since they won’t need to build their own hardware. What this also means is that currently, it is very difficult for other companies to step in and challenge Rocket Lab and Astra.

By the time a potential competitor could scrape together the talent and funding as well as spend years of R&D to develop their product, it will be too late. Astra has spent five years of R&D to get to where they are currently. Rocket Lab spent twelve years and about 200 million dollars to develop their orbital launch capability. Virgin Orbit spent thirteen years and one billion dollars to develop their technology.

Here’s an article which discusses these steep development costs:
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/richard-branson-says-virgin-orbit-has-spent-dollar1-billion-trying-to-get-to-space-the-ceo-of-startup-rocket-lab-says-it-needed-a-fraction-of-that-to-reach-orbit/ar-BB1ar47U

In other words, the moat is deep. This both protects companies like Rocket Lab and Astra, as well as gives them the great opportunity to leverage their technology as a platform for other space companies. Rockets are one of the most difficult things in space to build. They push materials to the limits of physics, require immense precision for flight control, and must be designed to handle and diagnose extremely complex failure scenarios. If a company can build a rocket, they can probably also build spacecraft and satellites. The technological adjacencies are obvious, and this is why companies like Rocket Lab and Astra stand a good chance to become successful space platforms.

As far as dollar evaluations go, both Rocket Lab and Astra have given (optimistic) projections for the future value of their space systems businesses in their investor presentations.

Rocket Lab investor presentation:
https://www.rocketlabusa.com/assets/Rocket-Lab-Investor-Presentation.pdf

Astra investor presentation:
https://astra.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Astra-Investor-Presentation.pdf

The opportunity is huge, and the moat is deep. SpaceX seems to be too focused on Starlink and going to Mars and has not competed in this area. If Rocket Lab and Astra can establish themselves in this space, they could become very successful space platform companies and it will be very difficult for any new startups to challenge them.

Therefore, because of the extremely high barrier of entry, the most successful space companies of 2030 probably already exist today. The challenge is identifying the correct companies to invest in.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2021, 11:53:38 AM by Herbert Derp »

Herbert Derp

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By the way, here is a very interesting article about Blue Origin and their dysfunction and lack of progress. For Blue Origin to be successful, Jeff Bezos needs to lead them like he led Amazon. So far, this hasn’t happened:
https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/07/despite-tuesdays-fight-jeff-bezos-is-running-out-of-time-to-save-blue-origin/
« Last Edit: July 25, 2021, 08:56:50 AM by Herbert Derp »