Launch Notices: Rocket Lab Missions | Launch Calendars
Top Categories: Rocket Lab | Business | Defense | Neutron Rocket

Podcast: Rocket Lab's Peter Beck and Adam Spice Discuss Neutron, Space Systems, and Strategy

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck and CFO Adam Spice continue the post-earnings release podcast rounds with an appearance on Dave G Investing. Some key takeaways from both:

Peter Beck

  • Building a rocket is a challenging process, with much of the work going into infrastructure, factories, and test facilities, not just the rocket itself.
  • Design for Neutron prioritizes affordability and reusability, with tradeoffs made to optimize performance and cost.
  • Block upgrades for Neutron will likely follow a similar path to Electron, focusing on incremental improvements rather than major redesigns.
  • Rocket Lab’s composite structures are a core strength, and the company has organized a new business unit to leverage this capability.
  • The space industry is at an inflection point, with vertically integrated companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab positioned to become the dominant players in the future while existing primes are stepping back.
  • Rocket Lab is producing more than 2,000 reaction wheels this year.
  • Beck on the minimal impact that an Electron customer delay has on revenue: “Just so people understand that from a financial standpoint we collect 90% of all of the the launch contract prior to ignition so there’s generally only 10% of the contract left when we ignite the rocket and as the rocket is being built you know we’re collecting against milestones along the way so there’s never any like rocket sitting there that that owes us a heap of money.”

Adam Spice

  • Neutron’s margin profile is expected to improve more quickly than Electron’s due to its reusability being designed from the start.
  • The investment in Neutron’s manufacturing facilities, such as the composite facility in Maryland, can benefit other parts of the business.
  • The Space Systems side of the business is less capital-intensive than the rocket side, and Rocket Lab has invested in its manufacturing footprint and systems to enable scalability.
  • Government business, particularly opportunities like the Space Development Agency (SDA) platform, represents a significant growth opportunity for the company.
  • Sinclair’s reaction wheel production has scaled from 150 a year to thousands since being acquired by Rocket Lab, creating significant opportunities for increased margin.

Both Beck and Spice emphasized Rocket Lab’s long-term vision of becoming an end-to-end space company, with vertical integration and the ability to provide complete space-based solutions to customers. They additionally highlighted the company’s focus on execution, delivery, and transparency as key differentiators in the evolving space industry.

Podcast: Peter Beck on Q1 Earnings, Neutron, and Rocket Lab's Vertical Integration Strategy

In a recent appearance on the Vince is Bullish podcast, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck discussed the company’s Q1 earnings and provided insights into its future plans and the space industry as a whole. Here are the key takeaways from the interview:

  • Launch manifest flexibility: Beck emphasized that launch delays and rescheduling are common in the industry and that Rocket Lab’s diversified business helps mitigate the financial impact of such changes.
  • Neutron rocket contracts: Rocket Lab plans to sign Neutron launch contracts once the rocket is close to its first flight, ensuring they can meet customer demands and secure the best pricing.
  • Neutron’s target customers: The rocket is designed to serve a wide range of customers, including mega-constellation operators, government agencies, and other commercial entities.
  • “I fully predict that 50% of Neutron launches will be other people’s and 50% of Neutron launches will be ourselves.”
  • Vertical integration and acquisitions: Rocket Lab pursues vertical integration when the supply chain is too slow or expensive. Acquisitions are made to secure strategically important capabilities or to create synergies with existing business lines.
  • Competing with SpaceX: Beck believes that the space industry will be dominated by companies with their own launch capabilities, like SpaceX and Rocket Lab. He sees Neutron as a medium-class launcher complementing Electron, serving different market segments than Starship.
  • Future vision: Rocket Lab aims to become an end-to-end space company, providing not just launch services and satellite manufacturing but also complete space-based solutions and services to customers.

Beck’s podcast appearance highlights Rocket Lab’s ambitious long-term vision and strategic positioning within the rapidly evolving space industry. Through vertical integration, strategic acquisitions, and the development of the Neutron rocket, the company is actively working towards becoming an end-to-end space solutions provider. Beck’s insights reveal his unwavering commitment to playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of spaceflight, as he lays the groundwork to capitalize on the limitless opportunities that lie ahead in the space sector and positions Rocket Lab to be a multi-generational space company.

Rocket Lab Drops Several Archimedes Engine Updates

Rocket Lab has completed the first full assembly of its Archimedes engine, a 3D printed, reusable rocket engine designed for the company’s Neutron medium lift launch vehicle. Here are some key facts about the Archimedes engine:

  • Powered by liquid oxygen and methane, using an oxidizer rich staged combustion cycle
  • Capable of producing 165,000 lbf (733 kilonewtons) per engine, with a combined total of 1,450,000 lbf on Neutron’s first stage (nine engines)
  • Designed for maximum reusability, with a minimum target of up to 20 launches per engine
  • 3D printed critical parts include turbo pump housings, pre-burner and main chamber components, valve housings, and engine structural components
  • Intensive test campaign has begun at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi
  • Production of subsequent engines is ongoing in parallel with the test campaign
  • Full-rate production will take place at Rocket Lab’s Engine Development Complex in Long Beach, California

The Archimedes engine test and development campaign is a key driver for Neutron’s first launch, which is now expected to occur no earlier than mid-2025. Rocket Lab has also completed carbon composite flight structures for Neutron’s fairing panels, Stage 1 and Stage 2 tanks, and the reusable Stage 1 structure. Infrastructure development also continues at Neutron’s dedicated launch site at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Archimedes: February vs. May

One of the reasons I aggregate the Neutron slides in posts like this one is that it helps quickly assess the scale and pace of development. Here’s a great example showing the state of the Archimedes engine in the late February investor update and then again today. That is a massive difference in just over two months.

February 27, 2024

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update

And May 6, 2024

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update

Rocket Lab's Neutron: 2024 Updates

2024 is going to be an extremely busy year as Rocket Lab pushes to get Neutron on the pad by December. I may not be able to capture every update, but I will at least pull all the official slides and key tweets together in one place. You can also track other Neutron updates on the blog here. For the updates from 2021 through 2023 see this post.

May 17, 2024 | Tweet by Rocket Lab

Tweet by Rocket Lab about Archimedes rocket engine testing

May 7, 2024 | Tweets by Rocket Lab

Tweets by Rocket Lab about Neutron rocket infrastructure

May 6, 2024 | Q1 2024 Investor Update

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q1 2024 Investor Update

May 6, 2024 | Tweet by Rocket Lab

Photo of Rocket Lab's Archimedes Engine

April 22, 2024 | Tweets by Rocket Lab

Photo of Rocket Lab's Neutron Launch Site Water Tower Photo of Rocket Lab's Neutron Launch Site Water Tower

March 18, 2024 | Tweets by Rocket Lab

Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops Photo of Rocket Lab Neutron Facilities at Wallops

February 27, 2024 | Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update

Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update Neutron Rocket Update Screenshot from Rocket Lab Q4 & Full Year 2023 Investor Update

Rocket Lab Updates Neutron Milestones

Rocket Lab updated the project milestones on their Neutron page to move the first Archimedes engine hot fire from the last milestone of 2023 to the first slot in 2024. While this is a bit of a slip it seems to be a minor one and not real cause for concern at the moment. Rocket development projects without timeline adjustments just aren’t a thing so adjustments should be expected along the way. Rocket Lab is still very well positioned to make the required progress in the year ahead as you can see from my roundup of 2023 development updates. Notably, they did not push launch into 2025 while making their edits. Do I think the first Neutron launch is likely to slip to 2025? Yes, but I think most analysts assumed that would be the case when Rocket Lab committed to their admittedly aggressive timeline. One milestone slip does not necessarily doom a timeline, however, and Rocket Lab might still pull it off. I expect clear guidance from them on that in the new year.

I’ve updated my earlier post on the milestones to reflect this update.

Rocket Lab's Neutron Development Milestones

Screenshot of Rocket Lab's Neutron Milestones

Rocket Lab has a very cool slider on their Neutron site that illustrates the key milestones in Neutron’s development. I’ve extracted the text from it for easier reading but do check it out.

2023

Stage 2 Build COMPLETE: First full-scale carbon composite tank built using advanced manufacturing methods

Structural and Cryogenic Testing Neutron’s carbon composite second stage to complete a barrage of structural tests in preparation for flight.

Flight Mechanisms Test Program Testing of critical flight mechanisms including separation systems, fairing actuation, control surfaces and actuators.

Archimedes Engine Build First Archimedes development engine completed.

Hardware-in-the-Loop Flight to Orbit Testing of all avionics and communications devices with critical onboard software and GNC algorithms.

2024

First Archimedes Engine Hot Fire Archimedes to breathe fire at Rocket Lab’s Propulsion Test Complex within NASA Stennis Space Center.

Stage 1 Build Full-scale carbon composite stage 1 tank built using advanced manufacturing methods.

Stage 2 Static Fire Hot fire exercising the Archimedes engine and all second stage systems. Testing like we would fly.

Stage 1 Static Fire Hot fire exercising the cluster of 9 x Archimedes engine and all first stage systems. Testing like we would fly.

Launch Complex 3 Complete Neutron’s launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport within NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia complete.

Final Integration Full flight vehicle complete and ready for flight.

Wet Dress Rehearsal Final systems checks before first launch.

LAUNCH! Neutron will take to the skies, ushering in a new era of U.S. space access.

Video: Inside Rocket Lab’s Biggest Mission Yet

Neutron Stage 2 Testing

Neutron stage 2 tank testing is underway. We should see a frosty tank soon!

Notes From Rocket Lab's Presentation At The Bank of America Virtual SMID Conference

Rocket Lab presented at the Bank of America Virtual SMID Conference yesterday. You can watch the recording here. Some quick notes:

  • Rocket Lab is, and can continue to be, selective in their customer choice - choosing to work very strategically to choose high margin work that benefits all parties.
  • Defense/Government segment of the business helps insulate the company in more constrained environments.
  • They continue to make progress on the margin front for both launch and space systems. They are ahead of expected progress on the space systems side of the business.
  • Pent up commercial demand and increasing government budgets are driving significant opportunity on the space systems front.
  • Highlights strategic importance of relationships with Varda, Earth Intelligence, and direct to mobile customers in driving the scale of Rocket Lab’s business and shareholder value.
  • Importance of vertical integration: Can deliver value to the customer across space systems and launch fronts. Minimizes risk, complexity, and cost for the customer.
  • Neutron development costs will ramp (as expected) through 2024 with an expected first launch still planned for Q4.
  • No planned short term M&A. Company has significant assets with current portfolio.
  • Virgin Orbit acquisition gives the company the extra footprint it needed to enable the kinds of scale they want to achieve. Company can evolve into a “serialized producer” of components or spacecraft.
  • On target for 15 Electron launches in 2023 and 20 in 2024 with average sale price hitting the $7.5M target average.
  • HASTE demand is expected to scale on both the civil and defense front. Low single digit HASTE launches are planned for 2023 and 2024 but after that customers might need on the order of “tens of launches” to operationalize a product.
  • Counter-hypersonic system development is expected to become a significant market, possible the largest market, in the next couple of years.
  • Recovery programs are on track and expected to provide significant margin support in the future.
  • Initial development of spacecraft for customers like Varda and MDA could be leveraged to develop platforms that could be serialized for mass production later.
  • Key milestones for Neutron in 2023 continue to be “frosty tanks” and “hot fire” as stage 2 cryogenic starts and Archimedes testing ramps up.
  • Current small launch competition is limited. The only real operational competition is Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur which is significantly more expensive at ~$30-40M per launch compared to Electron’s $7.5M.
  • The most significant medium launch competitor is the SpaceX Falcon 9.
  • Target 20x reuse for Neutron (vs ~10 for Falcon 9). This is primarily achieved by running Archimedes significantly under its full potential.
  • Key space systems competition is on the solar front in Boeing’s Spectrolab and Germany’s Azur Space. “We have been happy to let those competitors fill up their fabs with lower margin work.”
  • Space grade solar is incredibly constrained which allows Rocket Lab to continue to be very strategic in customer selection or prioritize product for in-house use while competitors struggle with supply chain constraints.

New Space Roundup

Between SmallSat 2023 and Q2 earnings there’s so much going on. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the stuff I’m tracking:

Neutron Rocket Renders

We have new Neutron renders. Check out my massive roundup of Neutron updates for more.

A Very Cool Neutron Animation

This animation is about a year old but but it’s so good that I had to make sure that it was captured here on the blog.

Rocket Lab's Neutron: 2021-2023 Updates

I’ve read through all of the presentations on Rocket Lab’s investor relations site and pulled the substantial Neutron development slides from each. There were more than I thought so this post is quite long but it’s very useful to see them in all one place and in chronological order.

Note: 2024 is going to be an extremely busy year for Neutron development so I have created a dedicated post for 2024. You can also monitor Neutron Rocket tagged posts.

Nov 8, 2023 | Third Quarter 2023 Financial Results Presentation Screenshot of Neutron Rocket update from Rocket Lab’s Q3 presentation Screenshot of Neutron Rocket update from Rocket Lab’s Q3 presentation Screenshot of Neutron Rocket update from Rocket Lab’s Q3 presentation Screenshot of Neutron Rocket update from Rocket Lab’s Q3 presentation

Sep 13, 2023 | Tweet Screenshot of Tweets about Rocket Lab's Neutron Rocket Testing

Sep 13, 2023 | Tweet

Aug 08, 2023 | Second Quarter 2023 Financial Results Presentation

July 27, 2023 | Neutron Web Page Renders Updated

May 9, 2023 | First Quarter 2023 Financial Results Presentation

February 28, 2023 | Fourth Quarter 2022 Financial Results Presentation

November 9, 2022 | Third Quarter 2022 Financial Results Presentation

September 21, 2022 | 2022 Investor Day and Neutron Update

August 11, 2022 | Second Quarter 2022 Financial Results Presentation

June 9, 2022 | Stifel 2022 Cross Sector Insight Conference

May 16, 2022 | First Quarter 2022 Financial Results Presentation.

February 28, 2022 | Fourth Quarter 2021 Financial Results Presentation

November 15, 2021 | Third Quarter 2021 Financial Results Presentation

July 27, 2021 | Investor Presentation . . .

Rocket Lab's Capital Efficiency

The recent acquisition of Virgin Orbit’s manufacturing capability at auction has drawn a lot of attention (appropriately so for such a massive win) but Rocket Lab has been consistently negotiating deals to drive down the cost of Neutron development. Space is a notoriously capital intensive business and Rocket Lab has distanced itself from many of its competitors by aggressively managing that risk:

  • The selection of Wallops for North American launch came with significant commitments from the state of Virginia and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority: “$30 million has been set aside for infrastructure and operational systems improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, along with $15 million from the MEI Project Approval Commission in site improvements and building construction in support of Neutron.” ($15 million will go into construction for the facility, and the 30 million will be geared toward the construction of the new launch pad - TechCrunch)
  • The company secured an undisclosed capital investment incentive from the Mississippi Development Authority to build out infrastructure for Neutron’s reusable engines. According to MDA they are “providing assistance for site development and equipment relocation and installation. Hancock County and Stennis Space Center also are assisting with the project.”
  • Rocket Lab was “awarded a $24.35 million contract with the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) for development of the Neutron launch vehicle’s upper stage.”
  • “Rocket Lab has been awarded Virgin’s 144,000-square-foot Long Beach, California–based manufacturing facility for $16.1 million…Analysts from investment bank Jefferies says that the Virgin Orbit assets have helped propel Rocket Lab’s value by around $100 million, made up of $80 million in Virgin equipment and $20 million in value from the Long Beach factory.”

These four deals alone represent more than $150 million dollars in concessions, assistance, and savings - a massive impact on the bottom line. In the second half of this year we should start seeing updates on progress increase in both frequency and importance with 2024 being particularly active. It should be fun to watch.

Rocket Lab Discusses Neutron Development With NSTXL

Shaun D’Mello, VP of Launch with [Rocket Lab] discusses Neutron development with the folks at NSTXL (National Security Technology Accelerator).

Neutron Second Stage Tank Test Stand Nearly Ready

Rocket Lab reports that this Neutron test stand is “ready to receive a full-scale second stage tank for structural & cryogenic testing in the coming weeks.”