Unveiling the Main Update
On Thursday (Dec. 2), Rocket Lab will reveal its next-generation rocket, and you can watch it live online.
During an online webcast at 8 a.m. EST, the private launch business will reveal a “significant development update” on the new rocket, dubbed Neutron (1300 GMT). You can watch it right here on this page, thanks to Rocket Lab, or on the company’s YouTube channel.
In March of this year, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck revealed plans for Neutron, a far larger booster than the company’s current Electron rocket for small satellite missions. Neutron’s existence came as a shock to Beck, who had previously stated that his company would not develop a huge rocket.
Beck stated in a preview video published Nov. 24 for Thursday’s announcement, “Earlier this year, I ate my hat.” He meant it to be taken literally. Beck famously joked he’d eat his hat if Rocket Lab constructed a massive rocket, and when he unveiled Neutron in March, he did just that (complete with a blender).
Beck appears to be ready to release information about Rocket Lab’s Neutron rocket development. In the Nov. 24 preview, he stated, “We’ve been busy.”
Neutron is Rocket Lab‘s first foray into the large booster industry, intending to serve the increasing satellite mega-constellation market as well as the company’s interplanetary ambitions to Venus and Mars.
Neutron, which was revealed in March, will be 130 feet (40 metres) tall and capable of launching payloads weighing up to 8 metric tonnes (18,000 pounds, or 8,000 kilogrammes) into low Earth orbit. It can also carry up to 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilogrammes) to the moon. The company’s maiden launch is scheduled for 2024 from the company’s new pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, said Virginia Rocket Lab.
The Neutron Design and its aim
Neutron is likewise planned to take a little more than 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg) to Venus, Beck’s intended destination (Rocket Lab wants to launch a small mission to the planet in 2023). By comparison, the company’s Electron is a smidgeon: It stands 59 feet (18 metres) tall and is made to house small satellites weighing up to 660 pounds (300 kg).
It’s unclear what Rocket Lab will reveal on Thursday, but it might be a more polished Neutron design, a manufacturing update, or a testing timetable.
One thing is certain: the first stage of Neutron will be reusable. Rocket Lab is already working on making its Electron first stage reusable. It also intends to snare the booster in mid-flight with the help of parachutes and a helicopter. As a result, Neutron may land on a landing pad similar to SpaceX’s rockets.
Neutron is also being designed with human spaceflight in mind, in case Rocket Lab decides to pursue commercial crewed flight. With the first suborbital space tourism missions by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin in 2021, the private human spaceflight business has exploded. The first all-civilian mission by SpaceX, which is already carrying astronauts for NASA, is also credited with the advancement.