Rocket Lab joins US Air Force to study rocket cargo delivery


California, USA-based Rocket Lab is to explore the use of its rockets to deliver cargo for the US Air Force as part of a study of point-to-point space transportation.

The rocket developer and launch services provider currently offers launches for small satellites with its Electron rocket and is developing Neutron, a reusable launch platform for larger payloads of up to 13,000kg. Neutron is planned to be launched for the first time in 2024.

The research agreement with the US Air Force will see Rocket Lab study how Electron and Neutron could be used to transport cargo around the world as part of a project called Rocket Cargo. It will also see Rocket Lab explore how its Photon spacecraft, a satellite the company is developing that integrates with its rockets, can be used to be an on-orbit cargo depot and offer a deliver re-entry capability.

The Rocket Cargo program is being led by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the US Space Force. Rocket Cargo, which also involves launch providers SpaceX and Blue Origin, seeks to explore the viability of space launch to deliver improvements in delivery cost and speed compared to existing air cargo operations.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck said, “Point-to-point space transportation offers a new ability to move equipment quickly around the world in hours, enabling a faster response to global emergencies and natural disasters.

“Electron is already a proven and reliable launch vehicle and we’ve demonstrated its adaptability with programs like reusability and our recent Capstone mission to the Moon for NASA, so we’re no stranger to exploring expanded use cases for Electron.

“Neutron builds on Electron’s capability with a much larger payload capacity, and it’s designed for frequent reflight, making it a perfect fit to enable fast deployment of vital resources while eliminating the en-route stops and air refueling required by air cargo solutions. Topping it off with Photon cargo depots on orbit provides a well-rounded approach to the future of rapid global deployment.”

Jamie Malak, from the AFRL said, “Rocket Lab USA will help the Federal government understand commercial rocket capabilities for future logistics missions. We will explore how to integrate rocket cargo systems in Defense logistics processes and how to make space transportation a reliable and practical option for operations of the future.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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