Rocket Lab expands US presence with testing of engines, launch facilities

Rocket Lab is a US-based company, but so far the majority of its operations have been carried out in New Zealand. Although the company has been public about its plans to expand into both hemispheres for some time, executives released multiple updates Wednesday detailing their goal to make the U.S. home to an even greater share of launches, testing and manufacturing.

The company shared the news with investors and the general public during Rocket Lab’s Investor Day. While the live stream of the event hit a technical snag, Rocket Lab shared all the updates in a long thread of tweets concurrent to the event (read it here). Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

Expanding presence in North America

Before the Investor Day event even began, Rocket Lab kicked off Wednesday morning with news: It will test the Neutron rocket’s Archimedes engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The company secured a 10-year lease for the Archimedes test complex in 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 build out infrastructure for Neutron’s reusable engines.

This probably isn’t much of a surprise. Many companies have conducted engine tests 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 to test engines, so it makes sense (not to mention economic sense) for a private company to secure space at the center. Rocket Lab will still need to build the test complex, and that’s where the capital investment will come in handy.

Rocket Lab will also bring a significant amount of investment and operations to Wallops Island, Virginia. The company announced back in February that it had selected Wallops as the location for Neutron’s first launch pad and manufacturing and operations facilities. Again, a smart decision: Wallops is also home to Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2, the launch site for Electron rockets.

So far, the company has been vague at best about when the Electron might take off from the Virginia site. But now more: The company said it plans to conduct the first LC-2 launch in December 2022, followed by a second mission just a few weeks later at the start of the new year.

Neutron goes…interplanetary?

Rocket Lab also provided a long-awaited Neutron update. The latest render of the Neutron looks a bit different from what we’ve seen before, although the general scheme is the same as the previous render released late last year. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed that the company included “interplanetary” in its list of mission profiles for the vehicle.

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

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

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