Austin, Texas (CNN Business)Rocket Lab, a startup that builds small rockets to shuttle satellites to orbit, announced Monday that it’s going public via SPAC, joining a wave of companies opting to list themselves on the stock market by reverse merger rather than more traditional IPO routes.
The deal will value the company at $4.1 billion, according to a press release. Rocket Lab’s SPAC, a fund called Vector Acquisition Corporation (VACQU), has traded on the Nasdaq for around $10 per share since it was listed in September 2020, and its stock shot up to more than $14 per share — a 30% increase — on the acquisition news.
Rocket Lab builds a line of lightweight rockets called Electron, which made the company the first commercial firm since SpaceX to deliver satellites into orbit with its first successful launch in January 2018. It has since conducted 18 launches, putting a total of 97 small satellites, or smallsats, in orbit. The company also has a satellite platform, called Photon, which can be retrofitted to serve various purposes in orbit.
The cash Rocket Lab banks from its SPAC merger will be used to build the company’s next-generation rocket, called Neutron, which will be larger than the Electron and capable of hauling roughly 30 times as many pounds into orbit with each launch, the company said in a press release Monday. The company is billing Neutron rockets as the “mega constellation launcher,” suggesting the company is likely to try marketing its services to companies such as Planet, Amazon, or TeleSat, which are all building satellite networks to provide telecom or earth imaging services.
Rocket Lab’s SPAC deal comes amid a SPAC -— “special purpose acquisition company” — obsession on Wall Street. SPACs serve as investment placeholders on the stock market as the fund’s backers hunt for an acquisition target. The target company then takes over the SPAC’s trading symbol, allowing it to go public with little of the financial disclosure or scrutiny that comes with traditional IPOs.
SPACs are enormously popular right now. It took only about eight weeks this year for US SPACs to raise more than half of 2020’s record SPAC fundraising of $82.5 billion — which was itself a quadrupling from 2019, according to Dealogic. Even celebrities like Colin Kaepernick, Shaquille O’Neal, Ciara, and Alex Rodriguez have started their own SPACs. Meanwhile, some economists and analysts have warned that they believe we’re in a phase of speculation as the broader stock market balloons into a bubble bound to pop.
Space companies have become a popular SPAC target. Both Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company started by billionaire Richard Branson, and California-based rocket startup Astra have merged with SPACs. And a satellite company called Spire announced a SPAC of its own on Monday, joining at least two other satellite tech firms that have taken the leap in recent months.
Rocket Lab, for its part, is further along in operations than many of its counterparts that have already gone public. The company has already proven its technological chops by conducting nearly 20 successful launches, while Astra and Galactic have yet to begin commercial operations.
“Not only are we the leader in small launch, we are the second most frequently launched rocket in the U.S. annually and the fourth most frequent launcher globally,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.
Alex Slusky, the tech investor behind the Vector Acquisition Corporation, will join Rocket Lab’s board as part of the merger deal. A group of institutional investors, including BlackRock and Neuberger Berman, will also take stakes in company, netting another $470 million for Rocket Lab.
According to a slide show posted to Rocket Lab’s website, its earnings have been in the red for the past couple of years. In 2020, the company had an estimated loss of $36 million. But in a statement, Rocket Lab said it plans to have positive cash flow within three years and bring in $1 billion in revenue by 2026.