Biden administration looks to give Rocket Lab $24M to boost space-grade solar cell production

Rocket Lab is poised to snap up around $24 million in federal funding to dramatically boost the production of its compound semiconductors, also known as solar cells, which provide power to satellites and spacecraft. 

The funding, which would go to Rocket Lab subsidiary SolAero Technologies, would help increase the company’s compound semiconductor production by 50% within the next three years. Rocket Lab-made solar cells have been used to power hundreds of satellites and spacecraft, including critical science like the James Webb Space Telescope and commercial constellations like OneWeb’s satellite internet constellation. 

The U.S. Commerce Department announced the non-binding preliminary funding agreement on Tuesday.

“Solar cells are important for keeping our communication and space technology powered and operational, and this proposed award would help our military, NASA, and our commercial space industry have access to the specialty semiconductors they need,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement. 

In addition to the federal funding, the state of New Mexico — where SolAero is based — committed to providing financing and incentives that value $25.5 million. The funding would help the company build out its Albuquerque-based facilities and create more than 100 direct manufacturing jobs, Rocket Lab said in a statement. 

The new funding would come out of a $52.7 billion pot of money that was created with the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act by President Joe Biden in 2022. It aims to revitalize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and increase domestic supply chain resilience. 

Rocket Lab acquired SolAero, which operates a ~115,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, in 2022 for $80 million. The company is one of just two in the United States that specializes in the production of space-grade, radiation-resistant compound semiconductors, or space-grade solar cells. SolAero is highly vertically integrated: In addition to the solar cells, the firm also manufactures solar panels and power modules. 

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