Rocket Lab expands US presence with engine testing and launch facilities

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Rocket Lab is a US-based company, but so far most of its business has been conducted in New Zealand. While the company has publicly announced its plans for expansion in both hemispheres for some time, executives issued a series of updates on Wednesday detailing their goal to make the United States the headquarters of an even larger share. launches, tests and manufacturing.

The company shared the news with investors and the general public at Rocket Lab’s Investor Day. While the livestream of the event ran into a technical issue, Rocket Lab shared all the updates in a lengthy tweet thread alongside the event (read it here). Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

Expansion of presence in North America

Even before the Investor Day event began, Rocket Lab kicked off Wednesday morning with some news: It will test the Neutron rocket’s Archimedes engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The company was awarded a 10-year lease for an Archimedes test complex at the center, with an option to extend the lease for another 10 years. The company also secured an undisclosed amount of capital investment from the Mississippi Development Authority to further develop Neutron’s reusable engine infrastructure.

Picture credits: rocket lab (Opens in a new window)

This one probably isn’t too much of a surprise. Many companies have performed engine testing at Stennis in the past, including SpaceX for its Raptor engine and Relativity Space for its Aeon engine. NASA has tons of infrastructure and testbeds already in place for engine testing, so it’s smart (not to mention economical) for a private company to secure space at the center. However, Rocket Lab will still have to build the test complex, and that’s where the capital investment will come in handy.

Rocket Lab will also bring a substantial amount of investment and activity to Wallops Island, Virginia. The company announced last February that it had selected Wallops as the site of Neutron’s first launch site and manufacturing and operating facilities. Again, a sensible move: Wallops is also home to Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2, its site for Electron rocket launches.

So far, the company has been vague at best about when an Electron might lift off from the Virginia site. But now not anymore: The company said it plans to make that first launch from LC-2 in December 2022, followed by a second mission a few weeks later at the start of the new year.

The neutron goes… interplanetary?

Rocket Lab has also provided a long-awaited update on Neutron. Neutron’s latest render is slightly different from what we’ve seen before, although the general outline is the same as the previous render released late last year. It certainly didn’t escape notice that the company included “interplanetary” on its list of mission profiles for the vehicle, either.

Picture credits: rocket lab (Opens in a new window)

One big design change concerns the fairing: we’ve known for some time that Neutron will have a fairing that won’t separate from the rocket during launch, but will instead open (Rocket Lab calls this fairing the “Hungry Hippo ” for this reason. ). But instead of opening in four parts, the fairing will open in just two.

The company has made commendable progress, but there is still a long way to go until the end of 2023, as they detailed during the presentation. But from the sounds of it, the company is proceeding as planned for Neutron’s first launch sometime in 2024.

Picture credits: rocket lab (Opens in a new window)

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