Rocket Lab, the Long Beach-based space launch provider and satellite manufacturer, has secured a government contract for 18 satellites worth over half a billion dollars.
Rocket Lab will “design, manufacture, deliver and operate 18 space vehicles” for an unspecified agency, according to a Dec. 21 Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The contract is valued at $515 million
Rocket Lab is “not sharing additional details about the contract,” a spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.
According to the SEC filing, work under the agreement was set to begin immediately with delivery and launch slated for 2027. Rocket Lab will then operate the satellites through 2030 with an option to continue through 2033.
While details remain scarce, SpaceNews, which first reported the story, said sources indicated the customer is likely the Space Development Agency, an arm of the U.S. Space Force.
The SDA is in the midst of developing a network of military satellites in low-Earth orbit known as the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. The constellation, made up of hundreds of satellites, will be capable of targeting mobile missile launchers and ships as well as hypersonic and advanced missile threats in real time for U.S. forces on the ground.
SDA Director Derek Tournear said during a presentation on Dec. 7. that the PWSA is broken down into five “tranches,” or parts. In April of last year, the first 10 satellites of Tranche 0 were delivered to orbit for demonstration and training purposes, with full deployment expected early this year.
Tranche 1 missions are slated to blast off beginning September, with full delivery of 161 satellites expected by 2025. Tranche 2 is in the acquisition phase, with missions slated to send around 264 satellites to orbit in 2026 and 2027.
Transport Layer Tranche 2-Beta includes 90 spacecraft for tactical satellite communications using ultra-high frequency and s-band radio waves. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman already are contracted for 72 of those satellites, according to Tournear.
“We are looking at putting another 18 satellites on contract and we are looking at a third vendor to do that,” Tournear said, alluding to what could be the Rocket Lab contract. “We should make that announcement shortly.”
Tranches 3 and 4 remain undefined, Tournear explained, due to the nature of advancing technology.
“I really don’t know what’s in Tranche 3 and Tranche 4,” Tournear said, noting Tranche 3 will begin launching in 2028 and include “hundreds of satellites.”
“The specifics of those capabilities are not yet defined, and they’re not defined for two reasons: Number one, I don’t know exactly what the state-of-the-art technology will be in that timeframe and, number two, the threats change.”
The contract announcement came at the end of a record year for Rocket Lab, which recorded its highest launch volume ever. With 10 launches of its Electron rocket, the company beat its previous record of nine set in 2022.
The Dec. 15 mission, dubbed “The Moon God Awakens,” was Rocket Lab’s 42nd to date. Electron carried and deployed a satellite for Japan-based Earth imaging company the Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space.
“Congratulations to our team for hitting a new annual launch record of ten missions, further cementing Electron’s position as the leading small launch vehicle globally,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “Once again, for the fifth year running, Electron is the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually and we look forward to building on that record with an even busier year of launches in 2024.”