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RocketLab Secures Nearly $50 Million in Funding for New Mexico Solar Cell Factory Expansion

Rocket Lab has announced a significant financial boost that will aid the expansion of its Albuquerque, New Mexico facility, which specializes in the production of space-grade solar cells.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Wed Jun 12 2024Written by Zac Aubert

Rocket Lab has announced a significant financial boost that will aid the expansion of its Albuquerque, New Mexico facility, which specializes in the production of space-grade solar cells.

The company has lined up close to $50 million in federal and state funding to support this venture. The funding includes a non-binding preliminary memorandum of terms (PMT) with the U.S. Commerce Department, potentially providing Rocket Lab with up to $23.9 million from the CHIPS and Science Act. The 2022 legislation allocated over $50 billion to stimulate semiconductor production within the United States. The PMT, while not a direct funding award, signifies that Rocket Lab's application has passed a merit review by the Commerce Department. The department will now undertake further due diligence and negotiate the terms of a final agreement.

Complementing the federal support, Rocket Lab has secured $25.5 million in financial assistance and incentives from the state of New Mexico. Additionally, the company is investing more than $70 million of its own funds into the project, as confirmed by New Mexico’s Economic Development Department.

The investment will facilitate the expansion of Rocket Lab's Albuquerque factory, which the company acquired in 2022 when it bought SolAero Technologies. This acquisition was part of Rocket Lab's broader strategy to diversify from launch vehicles into space systems, securing vital suppliers of key components.

The planned expansion will increase the factory’s solar cell production capacity by 50% over the next three years and create over 100 new manufacturing jobs. The facility has a notable track record, having produced solar cells for a variety of commercial and government spacecraft, including the OneWeb constellation and the James Webb Space Telescope.

“For more than two decades the SolAero team, now part of Rocket Lab, has played a crucial role in the domestic production of semiconductors. This program is a continuation of our commitment to ensuring resilient U.S. supply chains and creating highly productive local jobs.” - Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s Chief Executive

This award marks a notable milestone for the CHIPS program, being the first grant primarily focused on space-related semiconductor production.

Previously, BAE Systems received a $35 million CHIPS grant in December 2023 to enhance semiconductor production for defense and aerospace at its New Hampshire facility.

Despite the Rocket Lab award being a relatively small fraction of the overall CHIPS program, it plays a vital role in supporting the space sector. To date, the federal government has allocated $29.5 billion in CHIPS grants to nine companies, with major recipients including Intel, Micron, and Samsung.

“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 to keep our country safe and continue to lead in scientific discoveries and space commerce.” - Gina Raimondo, Commerce Secretary

In line with the funding agreements, Rocket Lab has committed to collaborating with NewSpace Nexus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding New Mexico's space industry. The company will contribute $2 million over three years to support NewSpace Nexus’s business and workforce development initiatives.