California-based Rocket Lab — the company most likely to have been chosen as SpaceX’s competitor — appears to be tinkering with its neutron designs, new artwork suggests.
Founded in 2006, Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab is fast becoming one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s more serious competitors. The company’s light-weight electron rocket is currently conducting routine low-Earth orbit flights, launching from sites in New Zealand and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia.
To truly compete with SpaceX, however, Rocket Lab needs a reusable launch vehicle like the Falcon 9. To that end, the company is developing Neutron – a fully reusable medium-lift rocket capable of exerting 1.53 million pounds of force at launch (for example). Comparison). , Falcon 9 exerts a force of 1.7 million pounds). Rocket Lab is capable of delivering 13 tons into low Earth orbit pitch the vehicle as a “megaconstellation launch vehicle”.
New artwork released earlier this week reveals some subtle but significant modifications to the upcoming rocket covered in Teslarati. What remains is the captive Hungry Hippo skin design, paving the way for a fully reusable first stage and skin. The latter is a protective shell that protects payloads such as satellites and spacecraft from aerodynamic forces and heat during launch.
Previous work showed a fairing composed of four segments that unfolded much like a worm’s mouth to expose and launch its payload. As can be seen from the updated graphic, Neutron’s disguise will now consist of two sections instead of four. This is probably an attempt to streamline the design and thus reduce potential sources of error. Ultimately, this could result in a more reliable rocket – a crucial feature for any launcher.
Rocket Lab did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comments and clarifications.
SpaceX takes a slightly different approach. Each half of the fairing falls back to earth after being ejected from the Falcon 9 rocket, controlled by a guidance system, engines and a parachute. SpaceX then attempts to capture these fairing halves using boats with large nets get them out of the water, with the goal of reusability to reduce launch costs. This works at SpaceX, but the Neutron fairing design is more elegant and in a word more futuristic. However, only time will tell if Rocket Lab’s system works as intended.
The company has also made adjustments to the forward strakes, or fins, which assist the rocket in controlled vertical landings. “Unlike SpaceX, which uses grid fins, the neutron rocket will use fins that provide more lift and can return to the launch site from a greater distance,” Teslarati explained, adding that the front fins appear to have been positioned higher on the rocket given the size of the Fairing halves appear to have been slightly reduced. Finally, Neutron’s landing legs are now housed in the rocket and bear a striking resemblance in form and function to Falcon 9’s landing legs.
Aside from these changes, Neutron’s other specs appear to have stayed the same. The rocket will feature a lightweight, specially formulated carbon composite structure, powered by nine Archimedes engines and powered by one Oxygen-methane mixture as a fuel. Ideally, each booster is flown between 10 and 20 times before it is retired.
Rocket Lab hopes to send Neutron on its maiden flight sometime next year, but as is usual in the space industry, schedules are bound to be broken. Especially when engineers are constantly tinkering with the blueprints.
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