Transfer on, Electron: Rocket Lab introduces its new neutron rocket

Peter Beck announces an expansion of the Rocket Lab family with the neutron rocket.

Private space launch company Rocket Lab announced that it will go where it promised, both here on Earth and in space.

Peter Beck, CEO of American aerospace company Rocket Lab, announced on Monday March 1st that the company will enter the medium-order to orbit market with the development of the neutron rocket.

This is because the company also plans to go public and partner with the Vector Acquisition Cooperation (SPAC) to become Rocket Lab USA Inc. The $ 4.1 billion merger is expected to complete by the end of the second quarter of 2021.

“From day one, our talented Rocket Lab team has demonstrated excellent execution and the ability to capitalize on growth opportunities,” Beck said during an announcement regarding the latest merger. “This milestone accelerates Rocket Lab’s ability to realize the full potential of space through our launch and spacecraft platforms and catalyzes our drive to create a multi-billion dollar new business that will be deployed vertically in space applications.”

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 and launched its small tea-sounding rocket in 2009 before entering the orbital launch business with the first successful launch of its Electron rocket into low-earth orbit (LEO) on the “Still Testing” mission on January 21, 2018.

Electron is a two-stage, lightweight carbon composite rocket with the first flight-ready electric pump-feed engine called the Rutherford. With a height of 17 meters, Electron can lift small satellite payloads of up to 300 kilograms in LEO. With a rapid, low-cost production of $ 7.5 million per launch, Rocket Lab is promoting potential for high annual launch cadence. To date, Rocket Lab has launched Electron 16 times to go into orbit from its Mahia Launch Complex One location on New Zealand’s North Island. Rocket Lab successfully recovered a first stage booster from Electron via a parachute and helicopter recovery system during a drop test in early 2020 and later performed the first successful booster water recovery during flight 16 ‘Return to Sender’ on November 20, 2020.

Mahia starts Complex One. Photo credit: Rocket Lab.

Neutron’s announcement surprised many space experts. “There are a lot of things at Rocket Lab that we said we were going to do, that we did,” Beck said in a recent video press release from the company. “… And a couple of things in the Rocket Lab that we said we’d never do that we did too. With this project, I really think it’s time to finally eat the hat. “

… And “eat his hat” is exactly what Beck did during the video announcement when he was sitting in a large model of the payload of the neutron rocket. The two-stage neutron is Rocket Lab’s answer for a launcher capable of lifting into orbit the next generation of mega-constellation payloads, similar to StarX’s StarX and OneWeb’s satellite constellation.

We introduce: Neutron. Photo credit: Rocket Lab.

With a height of 40 meters, Neutron will carry a payload of 8,000 kilograms. Rocket Lab plans to launch Neutron in 2024. By comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket (full thrust version) is 70 meters high and can fire a payload of 22,800 kilograms (50,300 pounds) of LEO. And yes, like the Falcon 9 rocket, Neutron will be large enough to potentially house a crewed capsule for manned space missions.

Neutron vs. Electron vs. Falcon-9. Photo credit: Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab is also coming to the east coast of the United States in 2021. Launch Complex Two is located in NASA’s Wallops Mid-Atlantic regional spaceport on the Virginia coast. Construction of the Wallops site for Rocket Lab is now complete, and the first mission – STP-27RM for the US Air Force’s space testing program with an experimental satellite called Monolith – is expected to launch as early as April 2021.

Start Complex 2 on Wallops. Photo credit: Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab also has aspirations beyond low-earth orbit. The company successfully launched its prototype satellite bus called the Photon Pathfinder on June 13, 2020. Photon is essentially an electron kick stage with an additional Curie liquid rocket motor. Rocket Lab plans to use Photon to send small payloads to the moon in late 2021 or early 2022 and maybe even send a mission to Venus using a modified Photon platform with an engine known as Hyper-Curie as early as 2023.

The year 2021 will be rounded off by Rocket Lab with 10 upcoming missions, including the ridesharing mission “They Go Up So Fast”, due at the end of March, and the start of the cis-lunar experiment for NASA’s autonomous positioning system and navigation experiment (CAPSTONE) ) End of 2021. CAPSTONE is a proof-of-concept forerunner for the full Lunar Gateway station that is part of the Artemis Crewed Initiative.

This happens when the business of introducing private space goes into full swing in the years to come. This year, SpaceX is ready to launch another flight from Crew Dragon to the International Space Station on April 22nd next month, along with the first launch of space tourists aboard Crew Dragon for Axiom Space later this year. Aevum also plans to orbital launches via its Ravn X drone from Jacksonville Space Port in Florida starting this summer, and BluShift Aerospace could launch its Red Dwarf rocket from Maine in 2023.

Rocket Lab’s neutron rocket will play an important role in the orbital space launch business in the years to come.

Leading image: Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, in a model of the neutron rocket payload fairing. Photo credit: Rocket Lab

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