April 1, 2023

Rocket Lab is a US-based company, but so far most of its activity has been in New Zealand. While the company has been public about its plans to expand into both hemispheres for some time, executives issued a series of updates on Wednesday detailing their goal of giving the U.S. a larger footprint in launches, testing and manufacturing share.

The company shared the news with investors and the public during Rocket Lab’s investor day. When the event livestream ran into technical issues, Rocket Lab shared all updates in a long tweet thread running concurrently with the event (read here). Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

Expanding presence in North America

Even before the Investor Day event, Rocket Lab started making announcements on Wednesday morning: It will be testing the neutron rocket’s Archimedes engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The company secured a 10-year lease for the center’s Archimedes test center, with an option to extend the lease for a further 10 years. The company has also received an undisclosed capital investment from the Mississippi Development Authority to further build infrastructure for Neutron’s reusable engines.

This may not be surprising. A number of companies have tested engines at Stennis in the past, including SpaceX’s Raptor engine and Relativity Space’s Aeon engine. NASA already has a lot of infrastructure and test beds for engine testing, so it would be wise (not to mention financially wise) for private companies to secure space at the center. Rocket Lab still needs to build the test complex, though, and that’s where the capital investment comes in.

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

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

Neutrons to… Interplanetary?

Rocket Lab also offers a long-awaited update to Neutron. The latest renders of the Neutron look slightly different from what we’ve seen before, but the general outline is the same as previous renders released late last year. The company also included “Interstellar” in its list of aircraft mission profiles, which definitely went unnoticed.

One big design change is the fairing: we’ve known for a long time that the neutron will have a fairing that won’t separate from the rocket during launch, but instead opens (Rocket Lab calls this fairing “The Hungry Hippo”) ). But the fairing does not open in four parts, but only in two.

The company has made commendable progress, but as they detailed in their presentation, there is still a lot of work to be done by the end of 2023. But from the sounds of it, the company is on track for its first neutron launch sometime in 2024.

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