ABL engine test
ABL Space Systems conducted an integrated stage test of the upper stage of its RS1 small launch vehicle at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Credit: ABL Space Systems

DUBAI, U.A.E. — Small launch vehicle developer ABL Space Systems has raised an additional $200 million, just seven months after a $170 million round.

ABL announced Oct. 25 it raised the additional funding as an extension of the $170 million Series B round it closed in March. The existing group of investors contributed to the updated Series B.

The original Series B round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, with participation by earlier investors, Fidelity Management & Research LLC and another “global investment management firm” the company did not name at the time. The original Series B valued the company at $1.3 billion, while the expanded round nearly doubles that to $2.4 billion.

Dan Piemont, president and co-founder of ABL, told SpaceNews that the company still has most of the $170 million it raised in March, describing the new round as “somewhat opportunistic and driven by insider interest.” Much of the additional funding, though, will go to scale up production of its RS1 vehicle that is nearing its first launch.

“We have received large orders for RS1 and will need to scale faster than we previously planned to meet the demand,” he said, with more than 75 launches under contract. “Our investors have seen the incredible demand for RS1 and want to make sure we have all the resources we need to serve it. We updated our operating plan accordingly, and you’ll see that in the form of more launch sites, more facilities, more machines and larger production crews next year.”

The additional funding, he said, will also support the company’s “medium-term roadmap” as it gears up for its first launch. “In the near term, we’re incentivized to shift resources aggressively to ensure we succeed in our mission, as long as we don’t disrupt our medium-term product roadmap or long-term cost structure,” he said. “Having more cash on hand will allow us to do that and also to continue operating from a position of strength through any failures or delays we may experience.”

ABL is preparing for its first RS1 launch late this year from Kodiak Island, Alaska, with a launch period there that extends to Dec. 15. Both stages of the vehicle have completed acceptance testing. “We’ve got a small army up there valiantly preparing the pad and hangar through heavy rain,” he said. “Everything is coming together and we’ll fly as soon as we can.”

The new funding supports research and development for future vehicles, including a test of an annular aerospike engine for the Air Force Research Laboratory as part of a program called Aerospike Rocket Integration and Suborbital Experiment (ARISE). Other work is focused on what Piemont called ABL’s “orbital launch roadmap,” but said the company wasn’t discussing details at this time.

Right now, though, the focus is on the RS1, for which Piemont estimated the company is devoting 90% of its resources. He said the company was projecting eight RS1 launches in 2022 and double that in 2023, but added that the “scaling goal is always a moving target.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...