The California-based rocket startup Launcher said Wednesday it has raised $11.7 million in a Series-A round of funding, well above its $7 million goal, as it seeks to accelerate development of its first orbital vehicle.
In an interview, Launcher founder Max Haot said the company remains on track to debut the small satellite “Launcher Light” rocket in 2024. However, to meet this goal, the company needs to grow significantly now.
This is a big change for Launcher, which has prided itself on being an exceptionally lean company with few employees and low overhead costs. During its first four years, during which it focused on development of a first-stage rocket engine, the company had just a handful of employees and expended about $1.5 million per year.
Now, however, Haot said the company will need to spend about $10 million a year if it is to reach orbit by 2024 with Launcher Light. The company currently has about 30 employees in the United States and at its research and development subsidiary in the Ukraine, and it plans to scale up to about 70 employees by the end of this year.
Haot said the company will probably need to reach about 150 employees by the time of its first orbital flight. He hopes to do so with a total budget of $50 million, supported by an additional round of funding expected to be complete by early next year. Reaching orbit with a budget of $50 million would be about half that expended by Rocket Lab, and still less than other small launch competitors.
“Compared to our competitors, we are in the kindergarten of fundraising,” Haot said. “That’s something we’re proud of. But compared to where we come from, this is a major acceleration of funding for us.”
As part of the company’s growth, this year Launcher also moved into a new, 24,000 sq. foot headquarters in Hawthorne, California amidst the country’s richest aerospace talent base in Southern California. “We love it here,” Haot said. “We moved here because it made sense to be where the ecosystem is, and where the talent is. There is no other place you should do this.”
For Haot it was a big move as well—he came to California from New York. He has a background in video and technology, starting his career in the late 1990s by running digital operations for IMG Media and later founding Livestream. He started Launcher in New York, and the company’s initial subscale test site was located on Long Island.
As part of the Series A funding round that closed, Haot invested $5 million of his own money from a recent sale of his Mevo camera business to Logitech. Effectively, this means Haot is now entirely dedicated to Launcher, focused 100 percent on the launch business.
In recent months, the company has continued to work on its E-2 engine, which will have about 22,000 pounds of thrust. The company has already developed and tested a turbopump, and it will test a new generation of combustion chamber this summer at its stand in Mississippi, at Stennis Space Center. After that, Haot said Launcher plans to run combined turbopump and combustion chamber tests.