Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab

Technology

Rocket Lab is an American aerospace company of New Zealand origin specializing in small charge rockets.

Historical

To attract a predominantly American clientele (DARPA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin), the company officially set up its headquarters in Los Angeles in 2013, the design and manufacturing site remaining in New Zealand2 until early 2017 and the opening of ‘a 14,000 m2 site bringing together the assembly site and its head office at 14520, Delta Lane in Huntington Beach, California at that date.

Rocket Lab’s business plan is not to be cheaper but to offer frequent launches to solve the current bottleneck. In the 2010s, companies wishing to put a small satellite in space must find a secondary place on a large launcher which is reserved above all for expensive and bulky satellites. Small launchers therefore want to reduce the waiting period to six months instead of 18 or 24 months, or even more, for the large ones. Customers are prepared to pay dearly for this express service: around 40,000 dollars / kg at Rocket Lab, against less than 3,000 at SpaceX.

After a partial failure to orbit with its Electron rocket in the spring of 2017, Rocket Lab begins 2018 with a success in its second Electron test on January 21. The latter has put three small CubeSat5 format satellites into orbit. Rocket Lab arouses the anger of astronomers by putting into orbit among these CubeSat “Humanity star”: a false star which will become one of the brightest objects in the sky thanks to its reflective panels6. This ball of mirrors fell back to Earth on March 22, 2018.

The first commercial launch took place on November 11, 2018, putting 6 cubeSat8 into orbit.

In March 2021, the project for a medium launcher called Neutron is announced. Capable of sending 8 tonnes into low orbit, it targets the segment of future mega-constellations of satellites, refueling the international space station, lunar missions, interplanetary flight missions to Mars or Venus. It will also be qualified for manned space flights. Its first flight is scheduled for 2024 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the east coast of Virginia. Like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the first stage of the Neutron will be reusable and will land on a barge in the open sea9. To finance this rocket and the company’s future projects, and following the merger with Vector Acquisition Corporation, Rocket Lab will be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

Launch facilities

Rocket Lab built in 2016 a launch base in New Zealand on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island on the Pacific Ocean coast which was inaugurated on September 26, 2016. The Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (in ) allows firing to reach all the relevant orbits for the target clientele, in particular the sun-synchronous orbit used by Earth observation satellites.

The launch site includes a tracking station, a hangar for assembly of the launcher and a launch pad. The launcher is transported from the assembly building horizontally, suspended from a vehicle combining the erecting mast and the firing platform, then straightened vertically once the firing point has been reached. The Mission Control Center is located in New Zealand’s economic capital Auckland, approximately 500 km from the launch base.

Rocket Lab plans to establish a manufacturing line and launch facilities also in the United States. In July 2018, 4 launch sites were pre-selected: Cape Canaveral, Wallops Flight Facility, Vandenberg Air Force Base and Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.

As of November 2018, it has six rockets in production and expects sixteen launches in 2019.

It plans to increase its production capacity to allow, if necessary, two flights per week.

Like SpaceX, Rocket Lab designed its Neutron rocket to be reusable.

Rocket Lab changes scale: the American company has unveiled a new rocket, the Neutron. Scheduled to fly from 2024, it is inspired by SpaceX: its first stage will be reusable.

This is an important leap forward for the American startup Rocket Lab specializing in space flights. Until now, it was known to operate a small-capacity rocket capable of carrying up to 300 kg of payload into orbit. But on March 1, 2021, Rocket Lab announced their desire to change leagues and play in the big leagues, with a brand new pitcher.

A NEUTRON ROCKET TO CHANGE SCALE

Her name ? The Neutron. It will not be operational right away: the company is counting on a first flight in 2024. A timetable that may seem remote, but Rocket Lab explains on the contrary that it is a short deadline, made possible in particular by the operation of an area existing launch, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, in Virginia, on the east coast of the United States.

Rocket Lab changes scale: the American company has unveiled a new rocket, the Neutron. Scheduled to fly from 2024, it is inspired by SpaceX: its first stage will be reusable.

This is an important leap forward for the American startup Rocket Lab specializing in space flights. Until now, it was known to operate a small-capacity rocket capable of carrying up to 300 kg of payload into orbit. But on March 1, 2021, Rocket Lab announced their desire to change leagues and play in the big leagues, with a brand new pitcher.

A NEUTRON ROCKET TO CHANGE SCALE

Her name ? The Neutron. It will not be operational right away: the company is counting on a first flight in 2024. A timetable that may seem remote, but Rocket Lab explains on the contrary that it is a short deadline, made possible in particular by the operation of an area existing launch, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, in Virginia, on the east coast of the United States.

On paper, the characteristics of the Neutron are almost beyond comparison with its current rocket, the Electron. Where the latter could carry up to 300 kg, the new one can deliver 8 tonnes in low earth orbit. Its size is also increasing, with a Neutron peaking at 40 meters, compared to 17 for the Electron. Its diameter also grows, to 4.5 meters against 1.2 meters.

Rocket Lab electron

These new dimensions should allow Rocket Lab to come and attack the market for small satellites, but also those whose size exceeds the capacity of the Electron. Clearly, the startup will be able to compete more directly with SpaceX and its Falcon 9 or Arianespace and its Vega. However, the reliability of the Neutron, which has yet to take off, remains to be demonstrated.

Rocket Lab is not starting from scratch for Neutron. The company says it will take the architecture of the Electron to the next level. And it has already provided proof of its functioning: out of eighteen launches, it has succeeded in sixteen and had two failures, the first of which occurred at the very beginning of its career, during a test flight without no satellite on board.

But above all, the biggest evolution of the Neutron will be in its first rocket stage. Indeed, it is planned to make it reusable, exactly like SpaceX, in order to be able to reduce costs and chain flights. The reusable nature of rockets is now becoming the new market standard: in Europe too, work has started, like Callisto and Themis.

For recovery, the company relies on a landing on an ocean platform. In the past, Rocket Lab has experimented with returning the first stage of the Electron, using a parachute and landing in the ocean. To reach a barge, you may need to change your approach and rely on propulsion to adjust the trajectory of the launcher. Landing gear will also need to be developed.

If Rocket Lab intends to attack especially the satellite market with the Neutron, the company also imagines very ambitious uses, such as the refueling of the International Space Station, the transport of astronauts, or the routing of a payload to the ground. lunar or the future station orbiting the Moon. The company says it can transport 2 tonnes to the Moon… and even 1.5 tonnes to Venus or Mars.

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