Big announcement from Rocket Lab on Thursday, December 2, the company unveiled the details of its new Neutron rocket through its CEO Peter Beck. The rocket in question was presented for the first time last March.
According to information provided by Beck, the Neutron rocket will consist of 2 stages. One of the peculiarities of the machine will be the presence, at the very top of the first floor, of a rather special cover made up of 4 panels which open and close like a flower. During take off, these panels will open to let escape the second stage carrying the payload. And as the CEO of Rocket Lab previously announced, the entire first stage will be reusable and can take off again almost immediately after a launch.
Beck explained in an interview with Space.com that the Neutron rocket came closer to an airplane than a conventional rocket in terms of reuse. It would only need a minimum of maintenance between each flight. During the presentation, the CEO did not fail to show the differences between Neutron and rockets of competitors, especially those of SpaceX.
A concept based on lightness
The Neutron rocket will be made of carbon fibers and the manufacturing will be done mainly through 3D printing. For the engines, we now know that the company will use new thrusters called Archimedes. These will operate with a mixture of methane and liquid oxygen. The first stage will be equipped with 7 of these thrusters while the second stage will use a single engine specially designed to operate in the vacuum of space.
According to the explanation, the combination of the very light carbon fiber material and the optimized aerodynamic shape will reduce the weight of the rocket. Thus, the engines will operate at an affordable cost and do not need high performance or a high level of complexity. Thanks to the simplicity of the engine, development and testing will be accelerated.
The capabilities of the new launcher
In terms of capabilities, the Neutron launcher will be optimized to put into orbit groups of satellites constituting the mega-constellations. However, the device is also designed to carry passengers.
The new rocket will be 40 m high and 7 m in diameter at its base. Each booster will weigh 490 tonnes when taking off. In its reusable configuration, Neutron will be able to put an 8 tonne payload into low orbit. But Rocket Lab assures that the rocket will also be able to send loads and passengers to the Moon and Mars. For the trip to the Moon, the maximum load will be 2000 kg.
At first, Beck had indicated that Rocket Lab was not interested in reusable rockets or large launchers. He even said that if his company started to develop this kind of rocket, he was going to “eat his hat”. Well, when Neutron’s development announcement was announced in March, Beck downright ate a bit of his baseball cap.