Here’s what Rocket Lab’s big Neutron reveal is all about

As promised, Rocket Lab gave us the details on its next generation rocket called Neutron. One thing that’s certain is everything has changed compared to its current Electron launch system.

Neutron key stats

Height40 meters / 131 feet
Diameter7 meters / ~23 feet
Fairing diameter5 meters / ~16 feet
Payload to LEO8,000 kg / ~17,600 lbs
Max payload to LEO15,000 kg / ~33,000 lbs
Lift off mass480,000 kg / ~529 short tons
PropellantLiquid Oxygen / Methane
Total lift-off thrust5,960 kN / 1,300,000 lbf

Bullet-shaped design

We all expected the design to change drastically. The original look of Neutron was just a placeholder until the final details were finished. Gone is the SpaceX Falcon 9 lookalike and in is a unique design that’s also built for reusability.

Landing legs

No lightweight folding landing legs here; Neutron’s legs will be large, sturdy, and fixed in place. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck stated that the rocket is built from the ground up to be both reusable and reliable. These large and wide legs will give the rocket ample stability for landing.

Credit: Rocket Lab

The width of the rocket starts wide and slowly tapers off, resembling a bullet shape. The material used for the skin will be a carbon composite, something Rocket Lab has gotten very good at making. From the outside, it looks like a single-stage rocket because Rocket Lab has gone with a unique design to help with fairing recovery.

Upper Stage with unique, fully reusable fairings

Reusing anything past the first stage has proved difficult for those trying, mostly SpaceX right now. No rocket other than SpaceX’s Starship and Relativity’s Terran R is working on recovering the second stage. Neutron won’t have a reusable upper stage either, but Rocket Lab left the door open for one in the future.

The fairings are something never done before for orbital rockets. Instead of jettisoning them and then trying to catch them or fish them out of the ocean, they are permanently attached to the first stage. Neutron’s seven-meter fairing will open up in four parts to give room for the second stage to exit with the payload. Then Neutron’s fairings will fold up and return to the launch site with the first stage for landing. Yes, no barge recovery like initially said.

Credit: Rocket Lab

Bigger engines for Rocket Lab’s bigger rocket

Electron’s Rutherford engines are, of course, too small to be used for Neutron, so Rocket Lab has come out with its Archimedes engine. Archimedes will use methane and liquid oxygen for propellant, similar to many other new engines in development. In a change in form, Archimedes will not be electrically pump-fed like Electron. Rocket Lab paved the way with space base battery technology, but it must not have scaled well with the larger design. Instead, Archimedes will use a gas-generator cycle, similar to what SpaceX uses on its Falcon 9 Merlin engines. This should be easier to develop versus more complex designs like SpaceX’s Raptor.

Credit: Rocket Lab

Seven engines will be used on Neutron’s first stage and one on the second stage. Sorry to all the Aerospike fans out there, you will have to wait for another rocket design or join Arca’s fan club.

Designed to launch mega-constellations

What did stay the same was Neutron’s mission to launch the industry’s mega-constellations. This shows in the way Rocket Lab is attempting to make Neutron as reliable and cost-effective as possible. Beck stated, “we will see Archimedes’ first fire next year,” and that all hands are on deck at Rocket Lab for Neutron’s development.

Well, that’s it. Let us know what your thoughts are on Rocket Lab’s Neutron rocket below. Do you like the design? Are you excited to see rocket launches and landings from Virginia? Leave your answers in the comments below.

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