rocket lab is building a larger, reusable launch vehicle called the Neutron and is targeting a price near $50 million per launch to challenge it Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
“We are positioning Neutron to compete head-to-head with the Falcon 9,” Rocket Lab’s chief financial officer Adam Spice said earlier this week while speaking at a Bank of America event in London on Tuesday.
The company announced Neutron when it went public in 2021, with Spice saying the rocket remains on track to debut in 2024 its fourth quarterly report last month, Rocket Lab said it has begun production of Neutron’s first armor structures, as well as construction of the launch pad for the rocket. The company plans to conduct the first “hot-fire test” of an Archimedes engine that will power Neutron “by the end of the year,” Spice said.
SpaceX is touting a $67 million Falcon 9 launch, and Spice says Rocket Lab is aiming to match that on a cost-per-kilogram basis for satellite customers. That means Neutron is “targeting a launch service cost of $50 million to $55 million,” Spice said.
Spice also noted that Rocket Lab expects to fly the reusable Neutron boosters “10 to 20 times” each, within range of the current reusable performance of a Falcon 9 booster.
“We ultimately expect margins on Neutron launches to be in the range of about 50%,” added Spice. He estimated the commodity cost of each neutron at $20–$25 million, with “nearly half of that” coming from the rocket’s upper, non-reusable second stage.
Additionally, with SpaceX pushing hard to develop its massive Starship rocket, Spice alluded to the potential for the company to veer away from flying Falcon 9 missions.
“We don’t have any hard data on that, but if that were to happen, that would certainly be an incredibly optimistic thing for Neutron,” Spice said.
In the meantime, Spice said Rocket Lab aims to maintain its position as the “dominant player” in the small satellite launch market sub-sector with its Electron vehicles. The company expects to launch three Electron missions in the second quarter, two of which have already been completed, and is “on track” to launch 15 missions this year, Spice said.
More than rockets
Spice also stressed to the Bank of America audience that Rocket Lab is “much more than” just a rocket company. In fact, the company’s acquisitions and expansion into building satellite components and spacecraft have become the majority of its quarterly revenue.
“All of this leads to the biggest opportunity in space that’s really on the application side,” Spice said.
As CEO Peter Beck has previously notedRocket Lab’s goal is to create an “end-to-end platform for customers” who need space-based services. Spice said the company wants to operate satellites and “deliver data to our customers and develop a recurring revenue stream from it,” essentially eliminating the need for other companies to build and operate their own satellites.
“A lot of the companies that we are [launching to orbit on Electron] are very unnatural space facility owners,” Spice said, adding that “the best space facility owner is someone who can launch.”