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Forum:Commercial Space - Military Space
Topic:Rocket Lab Neutron reusable launch vehicle
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Neutron will build on Rocket Lab's proven experience developing the reliable workhorse Electron launch vehicle, the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually since 2019. Where Electron provides dedicated access to orbit for small satellites of up to 300 kg (660 lb), Neutron will transform space access for satellite constellations and provide a dependable, high-flight-rate dedicated launch solution for larger commercial and government payloads.

"Rocket Lab solved small launch with Electron. Now we're unlocking a new category with Neutron," said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO. "We've listened to our customers and the message is clear - biggest doesn't always mean best when it comes to constellation deployment. Efficiently building the mega constellations of the future requires launching multiple satellites in batches to different orbital planes. It's a requirement that all too often sees large launch vehicles fly with payloads well below their full lift capacity, which is an incredibly expensive and inefficient way to build out a satellite constellation. Neutron's 8-ton lift capacity will make it ideally sized to deploy satellites in batches to specific orbital planes, creating a more targeted and streamlined approach to building out mega constellations."

Neutron will also provide a dedicated service to orbit for larger civil, defense and commercial payloads that need a level of schedule control and high-flight cadence not available on large and heavy lift rockets. Neutron will be capable of lifting 98% of all satellites forecast to launch through 2029 and will be able to introduce highly disruptive lower costs by leveraging Electron's heritage, launch sites and architecture.

The medium-lift Neutron rocket will be a two-stage launch vehicle that stands 40 meters (131 feet) tall with a 4.5-meter (14.7 ft) diameter fairing and a lift capacity of up to 8,000 kg (8 metric tons) to low-Earth orbit, 2,000 kg to the Moon (2 metric tons), and 1,500 kg to Mars and Venus (1.5 metric tons). Neutron will feature a reusable first stage designed to land on an ocean platform, enabling a high launch cadence and decreased launch costs for customers. Initially designed for satellite payloads, Neutron will also be capable of International Space Station (ISS) resupply and human spaceflight missions.

Neutron launches will take place from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. By leveraging the existing launch pad and integration infrastructure at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Rocket Lab eliminates the need to build a new pad, accelerating the timeline to first launch, expected in 2024.

Rocket Lab is assessing locations across America to establish a new state-of-the-art factory to support large-scale Neutron manufacturing, adding hundreds of jobs to the Rocket Lab team.

Above: Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck with 4.5-meter (14.7 ft) Neutron fairing.

Robert PearlmanRocket Lab live video
Join us on December 2, 2021 at 8 a.m. EST/5 a.m. PST for a major development update on the Neutron Rocket program.
Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab Reveals Neutron Launch Vehicle's Advanced Architecture

Rocket Lab USA, Inc., a leading launch and space systems company, today (Dec. 2) revealed new details about the next generation Neutron launch vehicle.

Building on Rocket Lab's proven experience developing the Electron launch vehicle, the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually since 2019, the advanced 8-ton payload class Neutron launch vehicle is designed to transform space access by delivering reliable and cost-effective launch services for satellite mega-constellations, deep space missions and human spaceflight. During today's live streamed Neutron update, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck revealed new details about Neutron's unique design, materials, propulsion, and reusability architecture for the first time.

"Neutron is not a conventional rocket. It's a new breed of launch vehicle with reliability, reusability and cost reduction is hard baked into the advanced design from day one. Neutron incorporates the best innovations of the past and marries them with cutting edge technology and materials to deliver a rocket for the future," said Mr. Beck. "More than 80% of the satellites to be launched in the next decade are expected to be constellations, which have unique deployment needs that Neutron is the first vehicle to address specifically. Like we did with Electron, rather than starting with a traditional rocket design, we focused on our customers' needs and worked back from there. The result is a rocket that is right-sized for market demand and can launch fast, frequently and affordably."

  • The World's First Carbon Composite Medium-Class Launch Vehicle:
    Neutron will be the world's first carbon composite large launch vehicle. Rocket Lab pioneered the use of carbon composite for orbital rockets with the Electron rocket, which has been delivering frequent and reliable access to space for government and commercial small satellites since 2018. Neutron's structure will be comprised of a new, specially formulated carbon composite material that is lightweight, strong and can withstand the immense heat and forces of launch and re-entry again and again to enable frequent re-flight of the first stage. To enable rapid manufacturability, Neutron's carbon composite structure will be made using an automated fiber placement system which can build meters of carbon rocket shell in minutes.

  • A Unique Structure to Simplify Launch and Landing:
    Reusability is key to enabling frequent and affordable launch, so the ability to launch, land and lift-off again has been built into every aspect of Neutron's design from day one. It starts with Neutron's unique shape, a tapered rocket with a wide base to provide a robust, stable base for landing, eliminating the need for complex mechanisms and landing legs. This balanced structure also removes the need for bulky launch site infrastructure, including strongbacks and launch towers. Neutron will instead stand securely on its own legs for lift-off. After reaching space and deploying Neutron's second stage, the first stage will return to Earth for a propulsive landing at the launch site, eliminating the high costs associated with ocean-based landing platforms and operations.

  • A Rocket Engine Built for Reliability and Reuse:
    Neutron will be powered by an entirely new rocket engine, Archimedes. Designed and manufactured in-house by Rocket Lab, Archimedes is a reusable liquid oxygen / methane gas generator cycle engine capable of 1 meganewton thrust and 320 seconds of ISP. Seven Archimedes engines will propel Neutron's first stage, with a single vacuum optimized Archimedes engine on the second stage. Neutron's lightweight carbon composite structure means Archimedes does not need the immense performance and complexity typically associated with larger rockets and their propulsion systems. By developing a simple engine with modest performance requirements, the timeline for development and testing can be drastically accelerated.

  • Say Goodbye to Throwing Away Fairings:
    What makes Neutron's design especially unique is the captive 'Hungry Hippo' fairing design. This innovative design will see the fairing form part of the first stage structure and remain fixed to the stage. Rather than separating from the stage and falling away to the ocean like traditional fairings, Neutron's Hungry Hippo fairing jaws will open wide to release the second stage and payload, before closing again ready to return to Earth with the first stage. What lands back on the launch pad is a compete first stage with fairings attached, ready for a new second stage to be integrated and launched. This advanced design can speed up launch frequency, eliminates the high cost, low reliability method of capturing fairings at sea, and enables the second stage to be lightweight and nimble.

  • A High-Performance Upper Stage:
    Thanks to Neutron's 'Hungry Hippo' fairing design, the entire second stage will be completely enveloped within the Neutron's first stage structure and fairing during launch. Thanks to this, Neutron's second stage is designed to be the lightest in history to enable high performance for complex satellite deployments. Typically, a second stage forms part of the launch vehicle's exterior structure and needs to provide strength to the vehicle from lift-off, exposing it to the harsh environments of the lower atmosphere during launch. By being housed inside the first stage and 'Hungry Hippo' fairing, the requirement for the second stage to withstand the launch environment is eliminated and the second stage can be made significantly lighter enabling higher performance in space. Designed as an expendable upper stage for now, Neutron's second stage is a six-meter-long carbon composite structure with a single vacuum optimized Archimedes engine.
Rocket Lab is currently working through a competitive process to select launch site, rocket production facility and Archimedes engine test facility on the U.S. East Coast. Rocket Lab expects to create around 250 new jobs to support the Neutron program with many roles open for application now.
Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab Selects Virginia for Neutron Launch Site & Extensive Manufacturing Complex

Rocket Lab USA, Inc., a leading launch and space systems company, today revealed it has selected Wallops Island, Virginia, as the location for its first launch site and extensive manufacturing and operations facilities, for its 8-ton payload class reusable Neutron rocket.

The Neutron Production Complex and launch pad for its Neutron rocket will be located adjacent to and within the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The complex will be home to a rocket production, assembly, and integration facility, as well as a dedicated launch pad for the Neutron rocket located on the southern end of Wallops Island. The estimated 250,000 square foot state-of-the-art complex will be constructed on a 28-acre site adjacent to the Wallops Island Flight Facility and will include a Launch Control Center, Rocket Lab's fifth global operations center for launch activities and on-orbit operations.

To support rapid production of the Neutron rocket, current plans for the complex include automated fiber placement robotic production systems capable of laying up meters of Neutron's new, specially formulated carbon composite structures in minutes. As a reusable rocket, Neutron is designed to land back on the launch pad after a mission and from there it would be returned to the production complex for refurbishment and re-flight.

The manufacturing complex will be located within proximity of Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2, the Company's launch site for the Electron launch vehicle, the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually since 2019. Rocket Lab's Neutron Production Complex is expected to create as many as 250 jobs in Virginia.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck, says: "Neutron is a new generation of rocket that will advance the way space is accessed, and Virginia makes perfect sense as a significant site for Neutron's early development. Its position on the eastern seaboard is the ideal location to support both Neutron's expected frequent launch cadence and the rocket's return-to-Earth capability of landing back at its launch site after lift-off; and as one of only four states in the United States with an FAA spaceport license for missions to Earth orbit or on interplanetary trajectories, Virginia is home to an active and experienced aerospace workforce we can pull from to support Neutron's development and launch. I'm thankful for the Commonwealth's enthusiasm and backing of Neutron which, combined with the state's rich heritage as an aerospace state, made it difficult to see anywhere else but Virginia to begin Neutron's journey."

Neutron is Rocket Lab's next generation launch vehicle in development, designed to lift 8-tons of payload and to provide a tailored launch solution for satellite mega-constellations. Neutron's unique design, materials, propulsion, and reusability architecture also make the launch vehicle ideal for assured access to space for the nation's most critical missions, deep space exploration, and potentially human spaceflight. Neutron will be the world's first carbon composite large launch vehicle, powered by in-house designed and manufactured Archimedes reusable rocket engines and an advanced upper stage to enable high performance for complex satellite deployments.

Rocket Lab selected Virginia as the location of its Neutron expansion on the strength of the extensive support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, in particular the Virginia Economic Development Partnership working alongside Accomack County, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), and the General Assembly's Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission. As part of the Commonwealth's proposal, $30 million has been set aside for infrastructure and operational systems improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport where the Neutron launch site will be located, along with $15 million from the MEI Project Approval Commission in site improvements and building construction in support of Neutron.

Rocket Lab Vice President – Launch Systems, Shaun D'Mello, thanks the Commonwealth of Virginia and Accomack County for its enthusiasm and support to bring Neutron to the Eastern Shore. "We've enjoyed a solid partnership with Virginia for years that will no doubt be strengthened with Neutron. We have a shared mission to develop Rocket Lab's presence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport into a strategic national asset that provides responsive, reliable, reusable space launch through Neutron and Electron, and breaking ground on the site soon is a significant and impelling step toward that future."

Rocket Lab expects to begin construction on the Neutron Production Complex in Virginia promptly. Commercial and government interest in Neutron is strong and includes a recent $24 million development contract granted by the U.S. Space Force's Space Systems Command (SSC) in support of Neutron's capability to aid national security and defense missions ranging from scientific and experimental satellites to the largest and most critical national security payloads. Further Neutron expansion will continue throughout the United States as the program develops toward first launch.

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