Innovation

Rocket Lab CEO reveals why new rocket can fly humans to space

Peter Beck is excited about the future potential for the Neutron rocket.

Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s next rocket could one day act as a taxi for space hotels.

In an interview with Inverse regarding the spaceflight firm’s upcoming Neutron rocket, CEO Peter Beck discussed the vehicle’s capability for human spaceflight. While he reiterated that the company has no current plans to move into this space, he did reveal that “a space hotel or something like that” could make Rocket Lab reconsider.

The comments indicate Rocket Lab’s openness to using its Neutron rocket for more than just building mega-constellations. Beck explained in the interview that, when paired with the existing Electron rocket, Rocket Lab could launch around 90 percent of the spacecraft planned for the next decade.

But with the likes of Orbital Reef and Axiom space planning private space stations, Neutron’s human flight capabilities could bring the rocket a new opening in the market.

Want to find out more about Beck’s ambitious Neutron rocket and what it means for the future of spaceflight? Subscribe to Musk Reads+ to read the full interview later this week.

In Musk Reads+ #29 back in March 2021, Beck made it clear that:

Today, we have no specific programs for human spaceflight. We will be bringing a vehicle to the market that is capable of it and capable of being certified for it. I've learned the hard way that you should never cap any potential paths. That cost me a very, very disgusting-tasting hat.”

Beck famously had to eat his hat if his company moved toward reusing rockets.

But when asked last month by Inverse about Neutron’s human spaceflight capabilities, Beck gave a rather curious answer.

At the moment, we have no plans, other than we're making sure that the vehicle is capable of human spaceflight. The last thing you want to do is go back and redesign the whole vehicle, and change a whole bunch of stuff to enable human spaceflight at a later date. I would say that, at this point in time, there's really only one customer for human spaceflight and that is NASA. I'd like to see more customers come online before…we certainly won't commit to a capsule design until we see more than one customer.”

When asked by Inverse to clarify his remarks, he explained that NASA “is very well served between SpaceX and Boeing, so there's really not a requirement for a third capsule in the market today.”

Both companies participated in NASA’s Commercial Crew program. SpaceX has launched four crewed missions with its Crew Dragon capsule since the first in May 2020. Boeing is still developing its CST-100 Starliner.

But Beck went on to drop his biggest hint about why the company could change its mind:

“Who would be other customers? I would say that really what I'm looking for here is some commercial growth and imperative that would require a diverse set of customers. Perhaps one day, there's a space hotel or something like that.”

Blue Origin, which forms part of the group behind the Orbital Reef proposal, wants to put a private space station in low-Earth orbit in the late 2020s to offer a mixed-use business park. Axiom Space, which is working with SpaceX on private flight launches, also aims to build a successor to the International Space Station that includes a space hotel (see Musk Reads+ #21).

Indeed, with more people wanting to go to space than ever, a new market could emerge for even more frequent human spaceflight launches.

“If and as those business models develop, then that would be a very positive sign to justify the vast investment that's required to develop a capsule,” he says. NASA awarded SpaceX $1.75 billion to develop Crew Dragon and gave the company a further $400 million for each launch, CNBC reported in June 2020.

Space tourism could encourage further growth in the space sector. CNBC reported in 2019 on a UBS report, which claimed the sector could be worth $3 billion out of a wider $805 billion space industry by 2030.

SpaceX’s efforts to open up human spaceflight, it seems, may encourage others like Rocket Lab to also join in on the action.

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