WASHINGTON — Just over a month after leaving the Pentagon, former Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin has joined the board of Rocket Lab, a small launch provider with increasing business with the U.S. government.
“Rocket Lab has established itself as the leader in dedicated small satellite launch, and it’s a privilege to be joining the board at an exciting time for the business as it continues to increase launch cadence and expand into satellite manufacturing and operations,” Griffin said in a statement. “Space continues to be a highly contested domain crucial to our national security, and it’s also a domain that presents significant commercial opportunity. The Rocket Lab team has a proven track record of executing on a clear vision to make space accessible to these diverse communities, and I look forward to supporting that vision.”
As the U.S. government has sought to leverage the growing small launch market in recent years, Rocket Lab has been there to pick up the contracts. The U.S. Air Force has awarded the company multiple launch contracts in recent years, and the U.S. Space Force is expected to launch a payload with the company in the coming months. At the same time, the National Reconnaissance Office launched its first payload from New Zealand on one of the company’s Electron rockets earlier this year.
Although the company recently saw one of their launches fail to reach orbit, resulting in the loss of all commercial payloads onboard, a subsequent investigation has cleared Rocket Lab to resume launch activities and both NRO and the Space and Missile Systems Center have said they plan to continue doing business with the company.
Griffin’s addition to the board certainly reflects the company’s desire to continue pursuing national security small launch contracts.
“We are honored to welcome Mike to Rocket Lab’s board of directors,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from the civil, defense, and commercial space sectors that will be invaluable to our team as Rocket Lab continues to grow and meet the ever-evolving launch and space systems needs of the national security community and commercial sector alike.”
Griffin has a long history in the space arena. In 2005 he became the 11th NASA Administrator, a position he held until his resignation in 2008. During his tenure he initiated development of the agency’s first commercial cargo delivery service to orbit.
More recently at head of R&E for the Department of Defense, Griffin was heavily involved in rethinking how the Pentagon approached the space domain. Griffin oversaw the establishment of the Space Development Agency in 2019, despite resistance from inside and outside of the Pentagon. Griffin was the agency’s most high profile advocate, pushing for funding for the nascent organization from Congress and arguing that it should remain independent from the U.S. Air Force’s traditional space acquisitions structure—at least initially.
Over the agency’s first year and a half, he helped articulate a unique identity for the SDA in developing a new proliferated constellation in low Earth orbit, which will eventually be made up of hundreds of satellites. That National Defense Space Architecture is now expected to be a key component to two of DoD’s most pressing issues: Hypersonic missile warning and Joint All Domain Command and Control.
During his tenure, Griffin was well known for his strong personality, which ruffled the feathers of both his colleagues at DoD and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Most notably, he clashed with former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson over the establishment of SDA, and the day before he announced his resignation the House Armed Services Committee recommended removing the Missile Defense Agency from under his control.
Griffin announced his resignation June 23, officially exiting the building July 10. He and his deputy, Lisa Porter—who resigned at the same time—have since opened up a new business together called Logiq Inc.
White House Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios was announced as Griffin’s successor.
Aaron Mehta in Washington contributed to this story.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.