The launch provider, which has a spaceport in New Zealand, will build the comms satellites at its Long Beach, California, headquarters on behalf of the US military.
The company has previously blasted off spy satellites co-developed by Australia and the US at its Launch Complex 1 on the east coast of the North Island.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said the deal marks the start of a “new era” for the company, which will now manufacture defence satellites and oversee the supply chain.
“We’ve methodically executed on our strategy of developing and acquiring experienced teams, advanced technology, manufacturing facilities, and a robust spacecraft supply chain to make this possible,” he said.
“It’s exciting to now be delivering this capability for government and commercial customers alike.
“Space Development Agency’s [SDA] acquisition approach favours speed, schedule certainty, and affordability to deliver next-generation space capabilities to the nation.
“We’ve proven Rocket Lab is capable of delivering this across our launch and spacecraft programs, and we look forward to delivering it for SDA.”
The SDA, established in 2019, is a US Space Force direct-reporting unit tasked with creating and sustaining space capabilities, including those that can detect threats.
Rocket Lab will act as a prime contractor for the US$515 million firm-fixed price agreement, leading the design, development, production, test, and operations of the satellites, including procurement and integration of the payload subsystems.
The contract comprises $489 million base plus $26 million of incentives and options and will be carried out by Rocket Lab National Security, the company’s wholly owned subsidiary.
The SDA is procuring satellites in two-year “tranches” to build out a proliferated constellation in LEO to deliver needed space-based capabilities.
All 18 satellites will integrate subsystems and components built in-house by Rocket Lab, including solar panels, structures, star trackers, reaction wheels, radio, flight software, avionics, and launch dispenser.
Rocket Lab’s Long Beach facility includes a 12,000-square-foot cleanroom and 40,000 square feet of streamlined production and test facilities.
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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