Rocket Lab updates reusable "Neutron" launch vehicle design
This morning at 8 am EST, Rocket Lab announced an update to their upcoming launch vehicle Neutron, which was initially announced back in March of this year. This new design is a Carbon Composite structure made in-house at Rocket Lab, which enables it to be strong, lightweight, and put up with the thermal loads from reentry. A large reason for this redesign is based on trying to reuse as much of the launch vehicle as possible. The fairing for the payloads is built into the first stage so both of those pieces can be returned and reused in one piece, making reuse a lot quicker and simpler, while recovering a majority of the costs. The rocket has a unique structure, a tapered body with a wider base creates good stability for landing and helps with thermal and aerodynamic loads during reentry, and the static legs enable it to launch right from that base without the need for complex launchpad infrastructure.
To power this new rocket, there needs to be a new engine capable of reuse and carrying the rocket into orbit. The new "Archimedes" engine is a reusable Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Methane Gas Generator cycle engine, running at 1 meganewton of thrust and 320s of ISP, seven of these engines will be on the first stage and 1 Vacuum optimized engine for the second stage. The vacuum optimized engine will be attached to the new second stage, a 6 meter Carbon Composite structure, which will be the lightest upper stage on a rocket in history. The new "Hungry Hippo" fairing design encapsulates the entire upper stage and payload on the way out of the atmosphere, so this new protection for the upper stage allows it to be lighter and higher performance since it doesn't have to withstand strong aerodynamic loads on launch.
The rocket stands 40 meters tall, 7 meters in diameter, has an internal fairing size of 5 meters, and is capable of launching 8,000kg of payload into LEO while being reused, or 15,000kg of payload fully expended.
While there is no updated launch date, they had mentioned 2024 when first revealed in March of this year. Prototyping has already begun for the Neutron rocket, and we can expect more updates in the future from @RocketLab on Twitter.