Rocket Lab expands US footprint with engine and launcher testing • CableFree TV

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Peter Kavinsky

Rocket Lab is a US-based company, but so far its main operations have been in New Zealand. While the company has been public about its plans to expand to both hemispheres for some time, executives released a slew of updates on Wednesday detailing their goal of making the US home to an even greater share of launches, testing and production.

The company shared the news with investors and the general public during the Rocket Lab Investor Day. While the event’s livestream ran into technical confusion, Rocket Lab shared all the updates in a long tweet thread at the same time as the event (read it here). Here are some of the most important findings.

Expansion in North America

Even before the Investor Day event began, Rocket Lab kicked off Wednesday morning with the news that it will be testing the Archimedes engines of the Neutron rocket at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The company leased the Archimedes test complex in the center for 10 years with the possibility of extending the lease for another 10 years. The company also received an undisclosed capital investment from the Mississippi Development Authority to further build infrastructure for Neutron reusable engines.

This is probably not too much of a surprise. Many companies have tested engines on Stennis in the past, including SpaceX for the Raptor engine and Relativity Space for the Aeon engine. NASA already has tons of infrastructure and test beds for engine testing, so it makes sense (not to mention economically viable) for a private company to allocate space in the center. However, Rocket Lab will still need to build a test facility, and this is where the capital investment comes in handy.

Rocket Lab will also bring significant investment and activity to Wallops Island, Virginia. Back in February, the company announced that it had chosen Wallops as the location for Neutron’s first launch site, as well as manufacturing and operating facilities. Again, a smart decision: Wallops is also home to Rocket Lab 2, its launch site for Electron rockets.

So far, the company has at best been vague about when Electron might launch from the Virginia plant. But now in more detail: the company said it plans to have that first launch with the LC-2 in December 2022, with a second launch just a few weeks away, at the start of the new year.

The neutron is leaving… interplanetary?

Rocket Lab also provided the long-awaited information about Neutron. Neutron’s latest render is slightly different from what we’ve seen before, although the overall layout is the same as the previous render released late last year. It certainly didn’t escape notice that the company included “interplanetary” in its list of flight profiles for the ship.

One big design change has been with the fairing: we’ve known for a long time that the Neutron will have a fairing that doesn’t separate from the rocket during launch, but instead opens up (which is why Rocket Lab calls this fairing the “Hungry Behemoth”). ). 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 lot to do before the end of 2023, as they detailed during the presentation. But by all accounts, the company is proceeding as planned for Neutron’s first launch sometime in 2024.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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