Photon Pathstone
In addition to launching six smallsats, the latest Electron mission includes "Photon Pathstone," a second test of the company's smallsat bus. Credit: Rocket Lab

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Rocket Lab’s acquisition of an aerospace software company is one of a series of deals it is considering, enabled in part by going public.

Rocket Lab announced Oct. 12 it has completed the purchase of Advanced Solutions, Inc. (ASI), a Colorado-based engineering company that develops flight software, simulation systems and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems. Rocket Lab is paying $40 million for the company, along with a potential bonus of as much as $5.5 million depending on ASI’s financial performance in 2021.

ASI and its team of nearly 60 employees will remain in Colorado under the leadership of ASI’s founder and chief executive, John Cuseo, supporting its existing customers while also incorporating its capabilities more closely into Rocket Lab’s overall business.

“By coming together, we will continue to serve our customers and innovate in our areas of expertise, including space software and GNC, but now with more rocket fuel in the tank to play with,” Cuseo said in a statement. “We look forward to also becoming an integral part of Rocket Lab’s Space Systems business, supporting Photon missions, satellite components, and space and ground software.”

In an Oct. 13 interview, Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said his company was familiar with ASI because it was a customer. “We used their software in some of our projects,” he said, adding that the “chemistry was right” between the companies.

“Software is a really difficult niche to fill,” he said, particularly in aerospace where there are few “pure play” companies devoted exclusively to software. “Having 50 people with a huge amount of experience with complex programs made this a no-brainer.”

The purchase of ASI was not Rocket Lab’s first acquisition. In the spring of 2020 it acquired Sinclair Interplanetary, a manufacturer of smallsat components such as reaction wheels. The deal is the first, though, since Rocket Lab went public in August by completing its merger with a special purpose acquisition company, Vector Acquisition Corp.

One of the reasons why Rocket Lab went public, Beck has previously said, was to make it easier to do acquisitions like this. “Could we have done this as a private company? Probably,” Beck said, citing the Sinclair example. “But certainly being a public company makes it easier to do these deals.”

Beck and other company executives have talked about acquiring other companies that have products or technologies complementary to its launch vehicle and spacecraft programs. In a September earnings call, Adam Spice, chief financial officer of Rocket Lab, said the company had about a half dozen potential deals under consideration.

“There’s a lot of mom-and-pop bootstrapped companies where they’re founder-controlled,” Spice said. “They’re really nice businesses that are reasonably integratable, they’re digestible from that perspective. They’ve also had a focus on profitability, so you’re not picking up what are typically ventured-funded cash-burning operations. We’re seeing quite a bit of opportunity.”

Beck confirmed in the interview that the company has up to a half dozen deals in various stages of consideration. “There are some really fantastic companies out there that, when combined with Rocket Lab, can really scale,” he said.

Some companies have approached Rocket Lab about a sale, but Beck said more potential deals involve companies it is already working with. “We’re doing very targeted, very methodical acquisitions,” he said. “We’re not trying to buy everything.”

The companies Rocket Lab considers buying also need to have similar cultures and ways of working, he said, with an emphasis on quality. “The bar is high in who we hire and even more so in who we acquire.”

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...