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3 mins read 12 Mar 2021

Rocket Lab Announces New Heavy Booster Launch Vehicle – Neutron

NZ-based Rocket Lab has announced plans for a new, medium-lift vehicle that will have the capabilities to take 8-tonnes into Low-Earth Orbit, interplanetary payloads to Venus and Mars, and potentially humans into space.

Earlier this month, NZ-based space launch company, Rocket Lab, announced a new medium-lift launch vehicle called the Neutron Rocket, which will be capable of lifting 8-tonnes of payload, making it an ideal solution for the deployment of mega-constellations of satellites, interplanetary missions and potentially, human spaceflight.

Building upon the outstanding success of launches that Rocket Lab has thus far achieved using the Electron launch vehicle

Neutron will stand at 40 metres tall, with a diameter of 4.5 metres, and will be capable of taking 8,000 kg to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), 2,000 kg to the Moon, and 1,500 kg on an interplanetary mission to either Mars or Venus. According to the company, the vehicle’s first flight is expected to launch in 2024, boasting a reusable first stage that will land on an ocean-fairing platform. The rocket is expected to also be propelled through a LOX/Kerosene propellant mixture.

Neutron will follow Rocket Lab’s workhorse – the Electron, a smaller class of launch vehicle that has since 2017 been orbiting smaller satellites of up to 300 kg payload into LEO. The Electron has also proven to be extremely effective for Rocket Lab with 16 out of all 18 attempts proving a success, and recently, several booster recovery atmospheric tests were carried out – leading to a successful ocean booster landing.

“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,” he said. 

“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.”  

Diagram showing features of Rocket Lab’s medium-lift vehicle. Credit: Rocket Lab.

However, Rocket Lab’s New Zealand-based launch facility, LC-1, located on the beautiful Mahia Peninsula which is routinely used to lift Electron vehicles into polar-aligned orbits will not host Neutron launches. Instead, the larger-sized rockets will lift off from the company’s Mid-Atlantic regional spaceport located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Looking to the future, Rocket Lab says that with larger payloads, access to space in faster turnaround times become more applicable through dedicated services that can be achieved for organisations across civil, defence and commercial industries.

Additionally, whilst Neutron’s initial launch program will feature satellite payloads – like mega-constellations – eventually, the vehicle could also be used to ferry cargo to the International Space Station on resupply missions, as well as human spaceflight capabilities in the future.

 

Video credit: Rocket Lab.