At Thursday’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast, sponsored by the Eastern Shore of Va. Chamber of Commerce, Accomack Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Wolf commented that as he understands it, human launches could be coming to the Wallops Flight Facility in the future. Rocket Lab is currently launching Electron Rockets from Wallops but is working to get into the human transport business as well.
Rocket Lab anticipates developing a larger rocket and hopes to launch larger payloads from the pad at the Wallops Flight Facility as early as 2024.Rocket Lab is launching Electron rockets to place small satellites in orbit from Wallops but the larger version, the Neutron, may become certified to carry humans into space as well and if it happens, they would launch from Wallops.
Rocket Lab expects Neutron to launch for the first time by 2024, with Rocket Lab CEO Robert Beck noting the company will put in the extra work to “ensure that it’s certifiable for human spaceflight.” Beck was recently interviewed on CNBC.
Currently the only U.S. company regularly flying astronauts is SpaceX, with NASA late last year certifying its Falcon 9 rocket for human spaceflight. Those certification requirements include design elements ranging from propellant tanks to redundancy strategies, Beck noted.
Given that it would be similar in capabilities to Russia’s Soyuz, Beck said Neutron would be capable of lifting a spacecraft that holds three people – although that will depend on the design of the spacecraft itself.
Neutron’s booster – the bottom and most expensive portion of the rocket – will also be reusable, similar to how SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 rocket boosters. Rocket Lab has been testing a method of recovering its Electron boosters, which Beck said is informing the company’s designs for Neutron.
Neutron will launch from the pad the company has built at NASA’s Wallops flight facility in Virginia.
While the company’s rocket and spacecraft manufacturing is performed at its headquarters in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab will look elsewhere to build a new factory for Neutron manufacturing.
“One of the things that I’m very sold on is building close to the launch site,” Beck said. “Being able to build close to the launchpad I think is going to be a real key element for this vehicle.”
The Neutron factory would bring hundreds of jobs with it. While he did not specify which cities or regions are under consideration, Beck noted that Rocket Lab is currently “running a competitive process to figure out exactly where.”