Neutron
Neutron rocket logo.svg
New Neutron rocket.png
ManufacturerRocket Lab
Country of originUnited States
Size
Height
  • 40 m
Diameter
  • 7 m
  • 5 m
Mass
  • 480,000 kg
  • 1,060,000 lb
Launch history
StatusIn development
Launch sitesMARS (planned)
First flight2024 (planned)
Payload to low Earth orbit
Mass
  • 8,000 kg
  • 17,600 lb
  • 15,000 kg
  • 33,000 lb
Payload to Moon
Payload to Venus
Mass
  • 1,500 kg
  • 3,300 lb
Payload to Mars
Mass
  • 1,500 kg
  • 3,300 lb
First stage
Diameter
  • 7 m
  • 23 ft
Powered by
Maximum thrust
  • 7,530 kN
  • 1,690,000 lbf
Specific impulse
  • 320 s
Propellant
Second stage
Diameter
  • 5 m
  • 16 ft
Powered by
Maximum thrust
  • 1,110 kN
  • 250,000 lbf
Propellant

Neutron is a medium-lift two-stage launch vehicle under development by Rocket Lab. Announced on 1 March 2021, the vehicle is being designed to be capable of delivering an 8,000 kg (17,600 lb) payload to low Earth orbit in a reusable configuration,[1] and will focus on the growing megaconstellation satellite delivery market.[2] The vehicle is expected to be operational sometime in 2024.[3] It uses LOX and liquid methane propellant on both stages of the vehicle.[2]

Design

An earlier design of Neutron, featured at the initial unveil in March 2021, featured a rocket 40 m (130 ft) tall with a 4.5 m (15 ft)-diameter payload fairing. Rocket Lab stated that they intended for the first stage of the vehicle to be reusable, with landings planned on a floating landing platform downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.[2][4]

On 2 December 2021, Rocket Lab unveiled a revised design for Neutron, featuring a tapered shape with a maximum diameter of 7 m (23 ft).[3] Rocket Lab abandoned plans for landing Neutron on a floating platform, instead opting for a return-to-launch-site reusability profile. Instead of a conventional payload fairing that is jettisoned and recovered at sea, the fairing is integrated into the vehicle, and opens during stage separation to release the second stage and payload, and then closes before the first stage lands back on earth. The rocket features a unique interstage design where the second stage is "hung" from the first stage structure.[1]

On the 22nd of September 2022, another revised design was unveiled at an investor day, with the first stage engine count increased from seven to nine, and the engine architecture changed from gas-generator to oxygen rich staged combustion. This was done primarily to allow for a lower turbine temperature, while maintaining the same specific impulse. The engine will run with a significantly lower chamber pressure than other similar engines, at the cost of some performance. They have also reduced the number of fairing segments from four to two.[5]

Operations

On 28 February 2022, Rocket Lab announced that Neutron will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) within NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern coast of Virginia.[1][6][7] It was also announced that the company will build a 250,000 square feet manufacturing and operations facility adjacent to the Wallops Flight Facility. [8] Ground was broken for this facility on 11 April 2022.[9] As of December 2021, Rocket Lab is planning for the first launch to take place no earlier than 2024.[1]

Applications

Neutron can lift up to 15,000 kg (33,100 lb) while expended, and up to 8,000 kg (17,600 lb) with the first stage returning to the launch site. Rocket Lab also intends the design to be able to eventually support human spaceflight.[4]

References

  1. ^ a b c d Sheetz, Michael (2 December 2021). "Rocket Lab gives first look at plans for bigger, reusable Neutron rocket as it takes on SpaceX". CNBC. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Foust, Jeff (1 March 2021). "Rocket Lab to go public through SPAC merger and develop medium-lift rocket". SpaceNews. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Neutron". Rocket Lab. 2 December 2021. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Rocket Lab Unveils Plans for New 8-Ton Class Reusable Rocket for Mega-Constellation Deployment" (Press release). Business Wire. 1 March 2021. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  5. ^ "Rocket Lab 2022 Investor Day & Neutron Update". YouTube.
  6. ^ Foust, Jeff (2 March 2021). "Rocket Lab says SPAC deal will accelerate development of Neutron rocket". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  7. ^ Rocket Lab selects Virginia’s Eastern Shore for rocket launch site.
  8. ^ Rocket Lab selects Virginia’s Eastern Shore for rocket launch site.
  9. ^ "Rocket Lab Breaks Ground on Neutron Production Complex in Wallops, Virginia". www.businesswire.com. 11 April 2022. Retrieved 1 May 2022.