Rocket Lab unveils Neutron, plus more news about the private space station – TechCrunch


Hello and welcome to Max Q! There’s been a ton of space news this week, so I’m not going to ramble on too much, other than to remind you that numerous of the people mentioned below will be at the TC sessions: Space on the 14th and 15th! Including Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, Nanoracks’ Jeffrey Manber, and many, many more. It will be a great event and we would love to have you there – more details are at the bottom of this article.

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Rocket Lab Reinvents Rocket Design With Neutron Launch System

On Thursday, Rocket Lab finally gave a long-awaited update on Neutron, its mid-range launch system, and the company did not disappoint. Neutron features a number of surprising innovations in both operation and development that deviate from other rockets in its class – I’ll come back to that here.

The first is the material used: Rocket Lab chose carbon composites for the rocket body, avoiding metallic alternatives. It’s interesting because SpaceX ditched carbon composites for stainless steel for the Starship system, but CEO Peter Beck told me that the lighter structure offers huge weight and performance benefits.

The other notable change I’ll mention here is the payload fairing. Traditionally, a rocket is stacked vertically, with the second stage sandwiched between the first stage at the bottom and the fairing at the top, like a nose cone. This is not the case with Neutron.

Instead, the company decided to attach the fairing to the first stage and put the second stage inside this. When the rocket is ready to deploy the payload, the fairings open mechanically, like a strange alien flower or a big claw!

These are just a few details on the design – read the full story to find out more.

Second stage and Neutron payload saying sayonara. Image credits: Rocket lab (Opens in a new window)

NASA awards more than $ 400 million to Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman for private space stations

Big news this week in the world of commercial space stations: NASA has awarded more than $ 400 million in deals to three companies to further develop designs for private low-earth orbit destinations.

The three companies, which received the awards under the agency’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Commercial Destinations program, are Nanoracks, which received $ 160 million for “Starlab”; Blue Origin, which received $ 130 million for “Orbital Reef”; and Northrop Grumman for $ 125.6 million, for a station that does not yet have a flashy name.

This first round of awards will help companies develop their designs, work expected to continue through 2025. There will be a second phase of the program, where NASA intends to certify one or more for human use. stations (of this group of companies or other entrants) and ultimately become one of the many customers purchasing in-orbit services and using the stations.

More news from TC and beyond

Astroscale has raised a $ 109 million Series F to advance its in-orbit maintenance technology, designed to extend satellite life and reduce orbital debris. (The CEO and founder of the startup, Nobu Okada, will join us on stage at TC Sessions: Space 2021 this year.)

Isar Aerospace won an 11 million euros ($ 12.4 million) award from the German government and the German Aerospace Center to further develop the startup’s Spectrum launcher, in exchange for transport services of up to 150 kilograms of payload on two separate flights.

Northrop Grumman won a massive $ 3.19 billion contract from NASA to build boosters for the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. The company is responsible for building boosters for nine SLS flights.

Phase four, a propulsion startup, has released specifications for its next-generation radio-frequency plasma thruster, which the company says offers key performance improvements to allow spacecraft that use it a wider range of maneuverability in orbit.

Q-CTRL, a startup that provides quantum control engineering solutions, has closed a $ 25 million Series B funding round led by Airbus Ventures. The company is developing qualified quantum sensors for space and exploration technologies for Earth and beyond.

EspaceX sent a batch of 48 Starlink satellites, along with two satellites for geospatial intelligence firm BlackSky, into orbit Thursday night. This was the ninth mission of this specific Falcon 9 booster. Review it here.

Varda space industries, SCOUT and Neutron star systems came first, second, and third (respectively) in Hyperspace Challenge, an accelerator operated by the Air Force Research Laboratory and CNM Ingenuity as part of the United States Space out The Force SpaceWERX program.

Join us for the TC sessions: Space

Last year, we hosted our first space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s December 14th and 15th, and it will be a fully virtual conference again, so people from all over the world will be able to join us – and you can too.

Discover a taste of the agenda by clicking here. Suffice to say that you won’t want to miss it.


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