Rocket Lab On Thursday, we revealed more about the larger and more powerful Neutron rocket it is developing.
“This is Neutron. It’s an absolute beast,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a webcast presentation.
Neutron is designed to be 131 feet high and 23 feet in diameter, targeting a maximum payload capacity of 15,000 kilograms in low earth orbit. For reusable launches, Neutron can carry up to 8,000 kilograms into low earth orbit. These are the first details given about the new rocket since the company announced its rocket plans earlier this year.
Beck said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday that Rocket Labs is still aiming to have Neutron on its lunchpad by 2024 and hopes to launch commercial customers with rocket by 2025. rice field.
The launch marketplace is divided into three sections: small, medium and heavy lifts. Neutron targets its central section, but Rocket Lab’s existing Electron rockets fit into a small segment.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket can lift up to 22,800 kilograms to low earth orbit, while Neutron competes to launch many of the same spacecraft. Of Elon Musk The company is currently delivering to space.
Beck declined to comment on the Neutron launch price tag, but for comparison, Rocket Lab’s small electron rocket was about 7 million per launch for comparison. The dollar and firefly medium-sized alpha rockets are touted for $ 15 million per launch, and the SpaceX Falcon 9 is touted for $ 62 million per launch.
Like the Falcon 9, the first stage of Neutron is reusable, but most similarities end here. SpaceX may land Falcon 9 boosters near the launch site, usually landing on sea drone ships, but Neutron is designed to return to the launch site for all reusable missions. I am.
Beck did not rule out that “landing on a drone has never been”, saying that “landing on a drone is advantageous for many use cases”, but returning to the launch site is “most He emphasized that it is a “cost-effective” approach.
“I wouldn’t say anything anymore,” Beck said. Earlier this year, Electron ate a physical hat after saying it couldn’t be reused..
Beck described Neutron as a “very thick vehicle”, giving it a “large ballistic coefficient” and saying it was ideal for launching, landing, and relaunching.
“If you have something thick and lightweight, it really slows down really fast. So you [reduce] With heat load [the amount of] Propellant requirements to deal with these thermal loads as they return to the launch site’s orbit. “
Instead of deploying landing gears, Neutron has a “static base” with no mechanics in place. The rocket has a “shock absorber” built into its base for the impact of landing, Beck said.
Rocket Lab is also developing a new engine for Neutron called Archimedes. Beck touts Archimedes’ design as “very simple” and has “everything you need when you need to build an engine that can be reused over and over again.”
Seven Archimedes engines put Neutron’s first stage in orbit, and an eighth engine propels the upper stage in orbit. The Archimedes engine will be manufactured at the Rocket Lab facility in New Zealand.
“Archimedes will start the first fire next year,” Beck said.
Another unique feature of Neutron’s design is the fairing, or nose cone. Nicknamed the “hungry hippo fairing,” the company designed it to stay connected to the body of the rocket, rather than cutting it back into the atmosphere like today’s rockets.
The Neutron fairing opens, unfolds the upper tier, and then closes to return to land.
“The answer isn’t throwing the fairings where you’re trying to catch them-the best way is to never get rid of them in the first place,” Beck said.
The only part of the non-reusable neutron is the upper stage, which deploys from within the rocket in orbit. Due to its design, it is extremely lightweight and Beck emphasizes the “ultra-thin structure”.
“The stage is suspended inside the fairing, so there are no thermal aerodynamic loads, backing loads, or structural loads. It’s literally suspended like a balloon under the payload,” Beck said.
Neutron is designed to turn within 24 hours from landing to another launch.
“It’s not because I really want to cycle the vehicle in 24 hours, but because it drives all the requirements we want in a positive direction,” Beck said.
In reality, Rocket Lab will start with a “modest” launch rate, as the company did with Electron, Beck said.
However, as Beck emphasized that the rocket business’s “component costs are not a driving force,” the stringent design time requirements are cost-driven decisions, and instead operational costs.
“If it takes three weeks or a month to refurbish a vehicle, that’s the month it takes people to work on it,” Beck said.
Rocket Lab has not yet announced the location of Neutron’s production facility, but said it was near NASA’s Wallops flight facility in Virginia, where it plans to launch a rocket. Beck said the company “is running a very competitive process” at its manufacturing plant and “is trying to beat it.”
One of the key aspects of the Neutron facility is that it needs to be close to the launch site. Beck said he would not flip it horizontally to transport it to a location.
“It starts vertically in the factory and it spends a lifetime vertically,” Beck said.
This further enhances Rocket Lab’s reusability goals by eliminating the need for launch pad infrastructure, such as a powerful back to hold the rocket vertically before launch.
Rocket Lab also designs Neutron within the requirements needed to launch a human-carrying spacecraft. The company is “focusing on cargo delivery at this time,” but Beck said at some point “not hindering the launch of astronauts using Neutron.”
“I ate enough hats now,” Beck said with a laugh.
So far, Rocket Lab has not developed crew capsules in-house. Beck emphasizes that the market for astronauts in flight needs to grow further.
“In fact, we have one customer, NASA, who is well serviced and needs to grow further on the customer side,” Beck said.
Rocket Lab Reusable Neutron Rocket Update: Competing with SpaceX
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