Earlier this year, we got a first look at Rocket Labs’ new Neutron rocket. This initial look gave us a decent idea of its planned capabilities, but a new update goes deep into some design changes.
The rocket is designed to launch payloads of 8 to 15 tonnes into space. It was always supposed to be reusable, but Rocket Labs have really cranked up that aspect of this 40-metre monster. The company’s new Archimedes engine is at the heart of it.
Neutron will use Archimedes, a 1-meganewton liquid oxygen/methane engine designed to be frequently reused. It’ll pair with a new carbon composite body, with the weight reduction meaning that fewer engines are needed. The first stage uses seven engines for lift, while the second has just a single Archimedes booster inside.
But that’s not the only interesting bit of this reusable rocket. The change in materials is joined by a new tapered design that CEO Peter Beck reckons will make launch and re-entry a little easier. It does this by reducing pressure on the craft, while the wide base makes takeoff and landing simpler as well.
There’s an interesting design to Neutron’s different stages. The second stage lives inside the first, with the fairing opening up to spew out its passenger. The second stage heads out to its destination while the first lands, ready to be fitted with another payload. The design could work to greatly speed up launches, while reducing the cost to send something into orbit.
Just don’t expect to see it in use just yet. Rocket Labs is targeting a first flight in 2024, and is currently looking for a suitable launch site in the States. There’s also the question of whether they can make the carbon composite and new design work as intended. That won’t be answered until they start igniting engines, but the company seems confident enough in what they’ve got in the pipe.