Rocket Lab is finally shedding more light on its next-gen Neutron vehicle. The company has provided multiple details making clear the rocket is built for reusability from the ground up. It'll center on Archimedes, a 1-meganewton liquid oxygen/methane engine built to be used many times over. And with a lighter carbon composite body, the companydoesn't need many — seven Archimedes engines power the first stage, while the second stage just needs one.
Neutron could also put an end to tossing away (or trying to recover) the fairings that protect the payload. The rocket will have a "Hungry Hippo" fairing that's part of the first stage design — they simply open when releasing the second stage, and close again when it's time to land. That should save money, as you might guess, but it also promises faster turnaround times and lighter second stages.
The tapered shape of the rocket itself is built for reusability with a wider, more stable base. Neutron won't need a launch tower or girder to take off, Rocket Lab said. The company previously said the machine could carry up to eight metric tons to low Earth orbit versus the Electron's modest 0.3 tons (660lbs).
Any practical uses are still distant. Rocket Lab said it was still in the midst of a "competitive process" to pick a production facility, launch site and engine test facility on the US East coast. The firm previously said it hoped for a first flight in 2024. Even so, the new details are important — they hint at a future where Rocket Lab carries more (and more varied) payloads at lower costs, making space that much more accessible.