Yesterday, Rocket Lab (NASDAQ: RKLB) finally lifted the wraps on Neutron, its forthcoming medium-lift launch vehicle. CEO Peter Beck kept his pre-2019 promise to eat his hat—literally—if Rocket Lab ever developed a reusable launch vehicle.
Meet Neutron: The first stage will be fully reusable, with a target turnaround time of just 24 hours. The squat rocket features a claw-like fairing that can open up mid-flight and release a disposable upper stage. The carbon-composite first stage features a static base with shock absorbers that will help with the trip home. Falcon 9, by contrast, has deployable landing legs.
Neutron will use Archimedes, a new engine that will be 3D-printed in-house. All in all, Neutron is “an absolute beast,” Beck said yesterday. The specs:
- 131-foot tall, 23-foot diameter body
- 15,000kg target maximum payload capacity—8,000kg for reusable launches
- “Cost-competitive” launches, Beck told CNBC.
The inevitable comparison: While quite different in design, Neutron and Falcon 9 will compete for the same customer and constellation payloads. Like Falcon 9, Neutron will be capable of supporting human spaceflight.
Rocket Lab is targeting 2024 for Neutron’s first trip to the launchpad and 2025 for commercial missions. It’s TBD whether Neutron can compete with Falcon’s ~$62M price tag, or if Starship makes that moot. Either way, Rocket Lab is confident that Neutron can earn share in the medium-class market and compete on low-cost access to space.