Skip to main content

Rocket Lab unveils Neutron, its first rocket capable of human spaceflight

Introducing Neutron

Rocket Lab has just announced that it is building its largest rocket to date as it seeks to take on SpaceX and other players in the commercial space launch market.

Even more tantalizing is the fact that the new Neutron rocket will be Rocket Lab’s first vehicle capable of carrying humans into space.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck revealed the news in a video (top) released on Monday, March 1.

The Neutron rocket will be reusable and tailored for “mega-constellation deployment, interplanetary missions, and human spaceflight,” the company said, though it didn’t lay out any timeline for the possible astronaut flights.

The new vehicle will be 40 meters tall and capable of carrying a payload of up to 8,000 kilograms into low-Earth orbit. For comparison, SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket has a height of 70 meters and can carry payloads of up to 22,800 kg into low-Earth orbit.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Based in New Zealand and the U.S., Rocket Lab has been using its smaller Electron rocket to deploy small satellites into low-Earth orbit for a range of companies, with 18 launches to date.

Rocket Lab’s upcoming Neutron rocket (below) will be just over twice as tall as the Electron, which is capable of carrying much smaller payloads of just 300 kg into low-Earth orbit.

Beck said that while rivals may be able to lift bigger payloads than the Neutron, they often launch well below capacity. He described this as “an incredibly expensive and inefficient way to build out a satellite constellation,” adding that “Neutron’s 8-ton lift capacity will make it ideally sized to deploy satellites in batches to specific orbital planes, creating a more targeted and streamlined approach to building out mega-constellations.”

Monday’s video also saw Beck following through on a promise he made last year to eat his hat if his company ever moved toward creating a reusable rocket. Plans are already underway to use a helicopter to pluck its Electron first stage from the sky as it falls to Earth shortly after launch, while the Neutron will be designed to land upright on a platform floating in the sea, similar to how SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 first stage. After blending his cap and stuffing some of it in his mouth, Beck commented: “This hat is not tasty.”

rocket lab neutron fairing
Rocket Lab

Neutron launches will take place from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, with the first liftoff expected in 2024.

It’s certainly exciting times for Rocket Lab as it seeks to consolidate its position as a serious player in the space launch market, and we can’t wait to see its Neutron rocket blasting off the launchpad.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Watch SpaceX test fire the world’s most powerful rocket
watch spacex test fire the worlds most powerful rocket super heavy static

Starship Super Heavy Static Fire

SpaceX has performed a static fire test of its Super Heavy booster ahead of its second test flight.

Read more
See the stunning image James Webb took to celebrate its first birthday
The first anniversary image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope displays star birth like it’s never been seen before, full of detailed, impressionistic texture. The subject is the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, the closest star-forming region to Earth. It is a relatively small, quiet stellar nursery, but you’d never know it from Webb’s chaotic close-up. Jets bursting from young stars crisscross the image, impacting the surrounding interstellar gas and lighting up molecular hydrogen, shown in red. Some stars display the telltale shadow of a circumstellar disc, the makings of future planetary systems.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the first images shared from the James Webb Space Telescope, and to celebrate this milestone NASA has shared yet another gorgeous image of space captured by Webb.

The new image shows a star system called Rho Ophiuchi; a busy region where new stars are being born amide swirls of dust and gas. Located just 390 light-years away, Webb was able to capture the region in stunning detail using its NIRCam instrument.

Read more
Blue Origin suffers setback as one of its rocket engines explodes during test
Blue Origin performing a ground-based test on a BE-4 engine.

Blue Origin performing an earlier ground-based test on a BE-4 engine. Blue Origin

A Blue Origin rocket engine exploded during a ground-based test last month in a setback for the spaceflight company owned by Jeff Bezos.

Read more