CEO of Rocket Lab Peter Beck has had a turbulent few years, despite the unpredictable challenges COVID-19 has thrown the way for the rocket maker’s operations based in Los Angeles and New Zealand. This year alone, Rocket Lab made its public market debut, revealed its plans for a new medium-range launch vehicle called Neutron, and acquired two companies (in addition to its first acquisition from 2020).
I spoke to Beck at our TC Sessions: Space 2021 event where we covered what’s new and special about Neutron, and how he leverages the company’s Electron rocket pedigree to challenge some assumptions about the construction of larger rockets. We also dove into his vision for Rocket Lab and what he aims to accomplish in terms of making it even easier for potential customers to take their stuff to space.
Beck talked about everything from the unique way Rocket Lab plans to bring Neutron’s reusable first stage back to Earth, to the “Hungry Hippo”-like design of the shroud that allows it to avoid being thrown away after use. He also outlined his vision for what Rocket Lab hopes to become through the integration of more service offerings, both through acquisitions and in-house product development.
Check out these excerpts, then watch the full interview below.
On ditching landing legs and improving aerodynamics:
It’s about removing as many components and as much complexity as possible [ … ] We had this epiphany one day, where we were like, we’re working on these landing legs, and we’re going around endlessly with mechanisms, and how are we going to maintain those mechanisms, and everything else. And then we said to ourselves, let’s stop, and have no landing legs. So let’s just have a wide enough base, so that we can withstand all types of rocking or creeping motions.
So we started with this big wide base and drew a satellite in the payload and the top of the upper stage and the diamond fairing and then we just drew two lines that joined it all together and it looked like a cone signaling. It’s actually the optimal vehicle: it has no legs, it’s just a nice stable structure. And then, as we started doing some CFD [computational fluid dynamics] on it, and some of the aerodynamics and some of the re-entry work, and that traffic cone turned out to be really helpful, because you have this decreasing pressure down the length of the vehicle, which means you don’t have of shock waves attached to it, which is always a challenge with the start of the school year.
On how to build a space business that truly meets the needs of modern customers: