Rocket Lab Throws in the Towel on 2024 Neutron Launch

The first fully-constructed Archimedes engine is headed for the test stand. Image: Rocket Lab.
The first fully-constructed Archimedes engine is headed for the test stand. Image: Rocket Lab.

After insisting that the reusable Neutron would be “on the pad” by year-end, Rocket Lab conceded during its first quarter earnings release that the next generation vehicle won’t launch until mid-2025.

That puts it out of contention for the first round of national security launch contracts for new medium-lift launch vehicles.

“The engine is the primary driver for the move,” CEO Peter Beck said. The company completed the build of the first Archimedes engine for the new rocket, which is now on its way to Stennis Space Center for hot fire testing. Rocket Lab is building five engines concurrently as it develops the manufacturing line for the new propulsion systems. (Yes, Beck referred to “the machine that builds the machine.”)

Eureka! Archimedes is intended to produce 733 kilonewtons of thrust and be reused 20 times, with nine engines used on each Neutron. 

“At the end of the day, this is a rocket program, and it’s a very difficult thing to execute—that’s why there are only a few of us in the world that have pulled this off,” Beck says.

Not raising the white flag: The company also said that its goal of flying 22 Electron missions this year is in jeopardy due to customers’ difficulty getting their payloads to the pad, but that it’s not giving up yet. The company expects to fly four times in the current quarter, and might squeeze in a fifth launch before the end of June.

A systems system: CFO Adam Spice said that Rocket Lab doesn’t need to sweat fluctuating launch schedules because 70% of its revenue comes from manufacturing spacecraft and their components, including a $150M deal building solar cells for a prime satellite manufacturer. 

Rocket Lab also flagged the team of subcontractors that will deliver components, mainly bespoke comms and sensing tech, for the 18-satellite project the company is developing for the SDA: CesiumAstro, Mynaric, SEAKR Engineering, Collins Aerospace, Redwire Space, and Parsons Corporation.

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