Neutron, Rocket Lab’s new launch vehicle, will be used for satellite mega-constellations, deep space missions, and space flights for humans. Developed using experience gained when building the successful Electron launch vehicle, the 8-ton payload class Neutron features innovative design and materials focused on reusability.
In order to withstand the intense heat and force of launch and re-entry, not only once but for multiple missions, the team at Rocket Lab implemented the use of a new and specially formulated carbon fiber composite material with the mechanical properties required to meet the extreme conditions. Using an automated fiber placement system, the carbon fiber shell can be built quickly.
Another design element in place to allow for reuse is the ‘Hungry Hippo’ fairing jaws. The first stage fairing form part remains fixed to the stage instead of falling away, allowing the Hungry Hippo fairing jaws to release the second stage, a 6-meter-long carbon composite structure. The complete first stage with fairings attached returns to Earth and will be reloaded with a new second stage to be integrated and launched, enhancing launch frequency, cutting costs, and eliminating the need to recapture fairings launched into the ocean.
A new rocket engine known as Archimedes, a reusable liquid oxygen/methane gas generator cycle engine designed by Rocket Lab, provides the power for Neutron. Due to Neutron’s lightweight carbon fiber structure, a huge and complex propulsion system is not needed, and Archimedes will provide the needed power, saving time in development, testing, and saving money.
“Neutron is not a conventional rocket. It’s a new breed of launch vehicle with reliability, reusability and cost reduction 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,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “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.”