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Rocket Lab announces details of new reusable Neutron launcher

Using methane and liquid oxygen propellants, Neutron will be powered by a new engine called Archimedes.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck has announced new details of its next-generation Neutron launch vehicle.

The advanced eight-ton payload class Neutron launch vehicle is designed to transform space access by delivering cost-effective launch services for satellite mega-constellations, deep space missions and human spaceflight.

Beck said: “Neutron is not a conventional rocket. It’s a new breed of launch vehicle with reliability, reusability and cost reduction that 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. 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.”

Neutron will be the world’s first carbon composite large launch vehicle. It’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 fibre placement system which can build meters of carbon rocket shell in minutes, Beck explained.

Instead of landing legs that unfold, Neutron will have a static base with no mechanisms in place. The rocket will have shock absorbers built into that base for the impact of landing, Beck added. The only part of Neutron that is not reusable is the upper stage, which deploys from within the rocket once in space.

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 one-meganewton thrust and 320 seconds of ISP. Seven Archimedes engines will propel Neutron’s first stage, with a single vacuum optimised Archimedes engine on the second stage.

Rocket Lab is currently working through a process to select launch site, rocket production facility and Archimedes engine test facility on the US East Coast. Rocket Lab expects to create around 250 new jobs to support the Neutron programme with many roles open for application now.