Rocket Lab, a private American aerospace manufacturer and small satellite launcher, has announced that it is developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle to challenge SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The Neutron rocket is designed to carry payloads of up to 8,000 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO), and it will compete directly with Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX.
According to Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck, the Neutron rocket will have a targeted launch price of $50 million per mission, making it significantly cheaper than the Falcon 9, which currently costs around $62 million per mission. Beck noted that Rocket Lab’s goal is to make space more accessible and to enable more commercial and government customers to send payloads to space.
“We are positioning Neutron to compete directly with the SpaceX’s Falcon 9,” Rocket Lab Chief Financial Officer Adam Spice said.
The Neutron rocket will be capable of launching both commercial and government payloads, including satellites for remote sensing, communications, and weather monitoring. Rocket Lab is also exploring partnerships with space agencies and companies to develop missions to the Moon and beyond.
In addition to its lower cost, the Neutron rocket will offer several other advantages over the Falcon 9. For one, the Neutron will be able to launch from a wider range of launch sites around the world, which will provide more flexibility for customers. Additionally, the Neutron will be powered by a new Rocket Lab engine called the Neutron Engine, which will be designed and manufactured in-house by Rocket Lab.
Rocket Lab’s announcement comes at a time when the demand for small satellite launches is rapidly increasing. In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of small satellites being launched into space, driven in part by the rise of the internet of things (IoT) and the need for ubiquitous connectivity.
Rocket Lab looks to maintain its position as “a dominant player” in the market sub-sector of launching small satellites with its Electron vehicles.
However, the market for medium-lift launch vehicles like the Neutron is also becoming increasingly competitive. In addition to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, other companies like Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, and Arianespace are also developing medium-lift rockets.
Despite this competition, Rocket Lab is confident that the Neutron rocket will be a game-changer in the space industry. With its lower cost and increased flexibility, the Neutron rocket has the potential to make space more accessible and to drive innovation in space-based technologies.
Rocket Lab is currently planning to conduct the first launch of the Neutron rocket in 2024. The company is also continuing to develop its small satellite launcher, the Electron, which has already conducted 21 successful missions to space.