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Vector raises $70 million more in investment capital

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Vector has successfully raised an additional $70 million in investment capital.

The increased funds bodes well for the company, but I am becoming increasingly concerned the company is more sizzle than steak. From the article:

With this round of funding, Vector plans to expand its sales and marketing teams. And the goal is to double its footprint in Silicon Valley. Vector is also expecting to break ground on a new state-of-the-art factory in Tucson. And Vector is advancing towards a first orbital attempt set to take place from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska soon.

Their original plan was to complete five test launches leading up to their first orbital try. Only two of those launches have flown, and it appears they are aiming to make the third launch orbital, with no clear schedule indicated. More significantly, it appears that they are not using the additional money for rocket development but for “sales and marketing.” Shouldn’t that come after the rocket is operational?

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  • Edward

    Robert asked: “Shouldn’t that come after the rocket is operational?

    Not necessarily. There are plenty of rockets that are still in development that are getting pre-orders. Robert reports on some of them.

    The real concern is the skipping of some of the development launches before going for the orbital test launch. Did Vector learn all that it needed to know from the first two suborbital launches? If so, then skipping the final three is acceptable. If not, then the first orbital attempt is riskier than originally intended.

    Marketing the rocket now is fine, if they really think that they are close to becoming operational. If this is the case, then rocket development is largely over and setting up launch sites is the next stage, and then developing the desired cadence — which requires sales in order to accomplish.

  • Edward: The two examples you give (Falcon Heavy and Ariane 6) don’t match. In the SpaceX case there was solid real development, including one successful launch, before the focus shifted to marketing. If anything, SpaceX used the launches as the marketing. In the case of Ariane 6, it is being built by companies that have a long and established track record. They can attract contracts from that alone.

    The problem I see is that it appears to me that Vector is not close to becoming operational. Putting this funding into marketing now seems like putting the cart before the horse.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “The problem I see is that it appears to me that Vector is not close to becoming operational. Putting this funding into marketing now seems like putting the cart before the horse.

    Skipping three tests means that either the first two were very successful or it means that they are pushing possibly too hard and going straight to orbital class tests before they are truly ready.

    On the other hand, if they are ready for their first orbital attempt, then they are likely about as close as Rocket Lab was on its first attempt. Thus, if they are ready, then just like Ariane 6 and Falcon Heavy, they need to get some commitments sooner rather than later, otherwise they will have a slow start as an operational company. This will not help them ramp up their launch cadence to their desired level. While other companies can rely upon past successes to sell future rockets, new companies rely far more on marketing to get the word out. Others are probably just as skeptical about Vector’s readiness, so they need to convince them to come (it isn’t quite like “Field of Dreams”).

    wayne’s article says quite a bit more about their development plan, including scaling up production, making me think that they have a reasonable expectation of success.

    Their first test, to 10,000 feet, last year, clearly was intended to verify performance of the various components. If things went better than expected, then additional launches may not be as necessary as originally thought.

    They may have learned low-cost rapid development from SpaceX. Both Jim Cantrell and John Garvey came from SpaceX. Cantrell was in business development and Garvey in rocket development (also developed rockets for McDonnell Douglas). Both are necessary to be in the rocket business. It looks like Vector has an experienced aerospace executive team:

    I don’t know whether their expectation for becoming operational next year is going to happen, but based upon historical track records of other successful aerospace projects and companies, we should expect them to also have schedule slips.

    Being well funded from the outside bodes well, in my mind. Lack of funding killed plenty of other NewSpace startup attempts, including the late XCOR.

  • Edward: I don’t really disagree with you on any of these points. I am merely expressing a concern my instincts forced me to express.

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