Author Topic: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion  (Read 413770 times)

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #240 on: 03/02/2021 03:29 pm »
I don’t see any particularly good reason a fully reusable, evolved Neutron couldn’t get a lower per-launch cost than Starship. Even fuel price starts to matter at Starship’s scale.

If Starship at 150tons to LEO costs as low as $50/kg for commercial satellites (likely lower for fuel launches as those have a lot less processing required and can choose from more launch sites... so fuel could still be $10/kg), that’s still $7.5 million per launch. A fully reusable Evolved Neutron could get well below that, just as SpaceX was claiming a fully reusable Falcon 9 could achieve $5 million.

But Starship isn’t going to get that cheap without a very high flight rate. Probably 1000 per year. Is there demand for that much mass? 150,000 tons IMLEO per year? Who knows. We’re at around 500-1000 tons IMLEO per year now. Let’s say 750 tons IMLEO per year. That’s just 5-7 Starship launches per year... barely enough for first stage reuse to make sense, let alone full reuse! But that’s 100 Neutron launches, enough for full reuse. (Of course, not all demand will go to one rocket...)

Elon would utterly disagree with you on the economic viability of upper stage reuse for a medium lift rocket. His fundamental argument is that reuse efficiency improves with scale. Else they would have tried to make Falcon fully reusable.
LOL, no he wouldn’t. LOL, they DID try to do it. For YEARS, SpaceX was low-level pursuing upper stage reuse for Falcon 9, but they abandoned it because they wanted to concentrate on Starship. Which was a good decision.

The “full reuse doesn’t work on anything smaller than Starship” argument directly contradicts what SpaceX was saying only like 2-3 years ago. SpaceX didn’t discover new laws of physics, they just made the perfectly rational decision to focus limited development resources onto Starship. That’s literally what Elon said at the time, too, for why they abandoned upper stage reuse on Falcon 9.

Seriously, the “full reuse doesn’t work on medium lift rockets” meme is extremely dumb.
« Last Edit: 03/02/2021 03:30 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline su27k

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #241 on: 03/02/2021 03:31 pm »
IF Rocket Lab achieves Neutron rocket launches in 5 years, then SpaceX may not be the one hurt here.  Also IF New Glenn is also operational.  This medium launch market will be crowded. ULA with it's expendable rocket may be the one who is left out of the market.

Yep, this.

It's not about Neutron vs F9 or Starship, it's about New Glenn vs Vulcan vs Neutron vs Terran R vs Firefly Beta vs some more medium lift that will be announced soon from other smallsat launcher companies.

Basically medium lift market will become the red ocean, and Starship is SpaceX's ticket out of here and go to blue ocean: 10kt to 100kt constellation, NASA BLEO HSF, DoD constellations, plus all the speculative stuff like space tourism, E2E, space mining, cislunar industrialization, etc, which nobody else can touch.

Offline RotoSequence

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #242 on: 03/02/2021 03:38 pm »
The argument "if Starship exists, why would any other launcher bother existing" based on projected cost/kg remains as nonsensical as using cost/kg to declare that cargo aircraft are impossible because sea freight exists.
Falcon 9 exists with a record low cost/kg. Other launchers continue to exist. There's more to choosing the most desirable launcher for your payload than bulk transport price.

The cost per kilogram argument is indeed silly, but Starship is trying to beat just about everything bigger than Electron on cost per launch alone. They'll have to miss very, very badly to not obsolete Falcon and its competitors on per-launch costs alone.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #243 on: 03/02/2021 03:43 pm »
A fully reusable rocket could touch those things. Starship will have a $/kg advantage if the flight rate can be high enough, but not all those markets will have the volume or revenue to justify Starship scale.

Also, Neutron is large enough diameter that it could conceivably be evolved (ala Falcon 9) to get about 20 tons IMLEO fully reusable, which is technically heavy lift.

Letís say, for example, I want to launch some astronauts to fix a satellite (maybe a big 100 ton satellite launched on Starship). I just need a quick repair, I have no need for a full Starship. I may pick an evolved fully reusable Neutron instead to spend, say, $3 million instead of $7 million.

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Offline Steve G

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #244 on: 03/02/2021 03:45 pm »
I'm cheering on Starship and SpaceX. However. there's a lot of asphalt to to drive on before Starship is operational and makes every company, like Rocket Lab, obsolete. A lot of money to spend. A lot of money to lose. A lot has to go right. A lot can go wrong. So until Starship is proven, is safe, can turn around in hour with just a pitstop, stop posting as if it is a sure thing.

It is not.

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #245 on: 03/02/2021 03:46 pm »
I donít see any particularly good reason a fully reusable, evolved Neutron couldnít get a lower per-launch cost than Starship. Even fuel price starts to matter at Starshipís scale.

If Starship at 150tons to LEO costs as low as $50/kg for commercial satellites (likely lower for fuel launches as those have a lot less processing required and can choose from more launch sites... so fuel could still be $10/kg), thatís still $7.5 million per launch. A fully reusable Evolved Neutron could get well below that, just as SpaceX was claiming a fully reusable Falcon 9 could achieve $5 million.

But Starship isnít going to get that cheap without a very high flight rate. Probably 1000 per year. Is there demand for that much mass? 150,000 tons IMLEO per year? Who knows. Weíre at around 500-1000 tons IMLEO per year now. Letís say 750 tons IMLEO per year. Thatís just 5-7 Starship launches per year... barely enough for first stage reuse to make sense, let alone full reuse! But thatís 100 Neutron launches, enough for full reuse. (Of course, not all demand will go to one rocket...)

Elon would utterly disagree with you on the economic viability of upper stage reuse for a medium lift rocket. His fundamental argument is that reuse efficiency improves with scale. Else they would have tried to make Falcon fully reusable.
LOL, no he wouldnít. LOL, they DID try to do it. For YEARS, SpaceX was low-level pursuing upper stage reuse for Falcon 9, but they abandoned it because they wanted to concentrate on Starship. Which was a good decision.

The ďfull reuse doesnít work on anything smaller than StarshipĒ argument directly contradicts what SpaceX was saying only like 2-3 years ago. SpaceX didnít discover new laws of physics, they just made the perfectly rational decision to focus limited development resources onto Starship. Thatís literally what Elon said at the time, too, for why they abandoned upper stage reuse on Falcon 9.

Seriously, the ďfull reuse doesnít work on medium lift rocketsĒ meme is extremely dumb.

Elon directly states it in at least 3 interviews. So itís not me youíre disagreeing with, itís him. Which is fine, but thatís how you need to frame your argument then. That Elon is wrong when he says that.

He never said full reuse with smaller vehicles is impossible. But that it becomes less economical the smaller you go.

After all, this is objectively true. If you go small enough - say Electron as an example - full reuse would impose a payload penalty that makes it worthless. So clearly your point canít be that full reuse is equally financially viable for all sizes of rockets.

The cost per kg increases the smaller the rocket. If you feel that is a dumb statement, take it up with Elon, because he directly stated as much.

Offline Lee Jay

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #246 on: 03/02/2021 03:47 pm »
Letís say, for example, I want to launch some astronauts to fix a satellite (maybe a big 100 ton satellite launched on Starship). I just need a quick repair, I have no need for a full Starship. I may pick an evolved fully reusable Neutron instead to spend, say, $3 million instead of $7 million.

This is the problem I have always had with Starship - it's way, way too big for the market.  What if someone were to do a smaller version of Starship, and entirely absorb the market simply by having the right size of fully reusable vehicle - one designed for the market instead of for Mars.

Offline GWH

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #247 on: 03/02/2021 03:48 pm »
Also, Neutron is large enough diameter that it could conceivably be evolved (ala Falcon 9) to get about 20 tons IMLEO fully reusable, which is technically heavy lift.

Letís say, for example, I want to launch some astronauts to fix a satellite (maybe a big 100 ton satellite launched on Starship). I just need a quick repair, I have no need for a full Starship. I may pick an evolved fully reusable Neutron instead to spend, say, $3 million instead of $7 million.

Neutron's upper stage may still be within the bounds of helicopter air capture if they could get it through reentry.

Offline ncb1397

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #248 on: 03/02/2021 03:49 pm »
I'm cheering on Starship and SpaceX. However. there's a lot of asphalt to to drive on before Starship is operational and makes every company, like Rocket Lab, obsolete. A lot of money to spend. A lot of money to lose. A lot has to go right. A lot can go wrong. So until Starship is proven, is safe, can turn around in hour with just a pitstop, stop posting as if it is a sure thing.

It is not.

Even if it does, it doesn't make every other rocket company obsolete. For instance, the first jet powered passenger aircraft, the De Havilland Comet didn't put every other passenger aircraft manufacturer out of business. Jets did take over, not the company.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #249 on: 03/02/2021 04:02 pm »
I don’t see any particularly good reason a fully reusable, evolved Neutron couldn’t get a lower per-launch cost than Starship. Even fuel price starts to matter at Starship’s scale.

If Starship at 150tons to LEO costs as low as $50/kg for commercial satellites (likely lower for fuel launches as those have a lot less processing required and can choose from more launch sites... so fuel could still be $10/kg), that’s still $7.5 million per launch. A fully reusable Evolved Neutron could get well below that, just as SpaceX was claiming a fully reusable Falcon 9 could achieve $5 million.

But Starship isn’t going to get that cheap without a very high flight rate. Probably 1000 per year. Is there demand for that much mass? 150,000 tons IMLEO per year? Who knows. We’re at around 500-1000 tons IMLEO per year now. Let’s say 750 tons IMLEO per year. That’s just 5-7 Starship launches per year... barely enough for first stage reuse to make sense, let alone full reuse! But that’s 100 Neutron launches, enough for full reuse. (Of course, not all demand will go to one rocket...)

Elon would utterly disagree with you on the economic viability of upper stage reuse for a medium lift rocket. His fundamental argument is that reuse efficiency improves with scale. Else they would have tried to make Falcon fully reusable.
LOL, no he wouldn’t. LOL, they DID try to do it. For YEARS, SpaceX was low-level pursuing upper stage reuse for Falcon 9, but they abandoned it because they wanted to concentrate on Starship. Which was a good decision.

The “full reuse doesn’t work on anything smaller than Starship” argument directly contradicts what SpaceX was saying only like 2-3 years ago. SpaceX didn’t discover new laws of physics, they just made the perfectly rational decision to focus limited development resources onto Starship. That’s literally what Elon said at the time, too, for why they abandoned upper stage reuse on Falcon 9.

Seriously, the “full reuse doesn’t work on medium lift rockets” meme is extremely dumb.

Elon directly states it in at least 3 interviews. So it’s not me you’re disagreeing with, it’s him. Which is fine, but that’s how you need to frame your argument then. That Elon is wrong when he says that.

He never said full reuse with smaller vehicles is impossible. But that it becomes less economical the smaller you go.

After all, this is objectively true. If you go small enough - say Electron as an example - full reuse would impose a payload penalty that makes it worthless. So clearly your point can’t be that full reuse is equally financially viable for all sizes of rockets.

The cost per kg increases the smaller the rocket. If you feel that is a dumb statement, take it up with Elon, because he directly stated as much.
Right, it is TRUE for $/kg. But that’s not the only figure of merit that matters!

If you’ve decided your main goal is a million people city on Mars and you’re going to attempt that no matter what, then it’s only $/kg that matters. Per launch cost is largely irrelevant.

BUT for commercial launch, per launch cost absolutely matters! There’s no contradiction between both these things mattering in a commercial context.

That is partially why EVEN when SpaceX was working on ITS/BFR, they were STILL working and talking about reusable Falcon 9 upper stage.

Starship won’t make everyone else obsolete. Starship isn’t optimized for smaller payloads (which are a valid market). It WILL mean everyone will have to eventually get to fully reusable or they won’t be able to compete commercially.

Remember also there will always be value for customers and governments for there to be multiple launch vehicles and multiple launch providers. Stand-downs happen. You also won’t have any bargaining power on bidding out contracts if you have to just pay whatever SpaceX says you have to.

SpaceX won’t and shouldn’t just offer launch for much cheaper than the market will bear. It’s right for them to charge a price that maximizes their overall profit in order to pay for Mars. So there will always be a place for competitors.

secondly, SpceX is a single point of failure. Elon and/or Gwynne could have a stroke and be replaced by some folks that don’t value expanding humanity into space. SpaceX won’t truly be a success until there are lots of Falcon 9 and then Starship clones.
« Last Edit: 03/02/2021 04:06 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #250 on: 03/02/2021 04:11 pm »
I donít see any particularly good reason a fully reusable, evolved Neutron couldnít get a lower per-launch cost than Starship. Even fuel price starts to matter at Starshipís scale.

If Starship at 150tons to LEO costs as low as $50/kg for commercial satellites (likely lower for fuel launches as those have a lot less processing required and can choose from more launch sites... so fuel could still be $10/kg), thatís still $7.5 million per launch. A fully reusable Evolved Neutron could get well below that, just as SpaceX was claiming a fully reusable Falcon 9 could achieve $5 million.

But Starship isnít going to get that cheap without a very high flight rate. Probably 1000 per year. Is there demand for that much mass? 150,000 tons IMLEO per year? Who knows. Weíre at around 500-1000 tons IMLEO per year now. Letís say 750 tons IMLEO per year. Thatís just 5-7 Starship launches per year... barely enough for first stage reuse to make sense, let alone full reuse! But thatís 100 Neutron launches, enough for full reuse. (Of course, not all demand will go to one rocket...)

Elon would utterly disagree with you on the economic viability of upper stage reuse for a medium lift rocket. His fundamental argument is that reuse efficiency improves with scale. Else they would have tried to make Falcon fully reusable.
LOL, no he wouldnít. LOL, they DID try to do it. For YEARS, SpaceX was low-level pursuing upper stage reuse for Falcon 9, but they abandoned it because they wanted to concentrate on Starship. Which was a good decision.

The ďfull reuse doesnít work on anything smaller than StarshipĒ argument directly contradicts what SpaceX was saying only like 2-3 years ago. SpaceX didnít discover new laws of physics, they just made the perfectly rational decision to focus limited development resources onto Starship. Thatís literally what Elon said at the time, too, for why they abandoned upper stage reuse on Falcon 9.

Seriously, the ďfull reuse doesnít work on medium lift rocketsĒ meme is extremely dumb.

Elon directly states it in at least 3 interviews. So itís not me youíre disagreeing with, itís him. Which is fine, but thatís how you need to frame your argument then. That Elon is wrong when he says that.

He never said full reuse with smaller vehicles is impossible. But that it becomes less economical the smaller you go.

After all, this is objectively true. If you go small enough - say Electron as an example - full reuse would impose a payload penalty that makes it worthless. So clearly your point canít be that full reuse is equally financially viable for all sizes of rockets.

The cost per kg increases the smaller the rocket. If you feel that is a dumb statement, take it up with Elon, because he directly stated as much.
Right, it is TRUE for $/kg. But thatís not the only figure of merit that matters!

If youíve decided your main goal is a million people city on Mars and youíre going to attempt that no matter what, then itís only $/kg that matters. Per launch cost is largely irrelevant.

BUT for commercial launch, per launch cost absolutely matters! Thereís no contradiction between both these things mattering in a commercial context.

That is partially why EVEN when SpaceX was working on ITS/BFR, they were STILL working and talking about reusable Falcon 9 upper stage.

Starship wonít make everyone else obsolete. Starship isnít optimized for smaller payloads (which are a valid market). It WILL mean everyone will have to eventually get to fully reusable or they wonít be able to compete commercially.

Remember also there will always be value for customers and governments for there to be multiple launch vehicles and multiple launch providers. Stand-downs happen. You also wonít have any bargaining power on bidding out contracts if you have to just pay whatever SpaceX says you have to.

Yep, valid points there. Although the one about Starship not being optimal for smaller payloads is debatable when you have deployable space tugs and plenty of payload capacity to spare. Eventually Neutron becomes the Electron of its day, relegated to a small niche by Starship, as F9 does to Electron today.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #251 on: 03/02/2021 04:18 pm »
So there are a lot of minimum costs for launch vehicles. Like, I dunno, a launch license might cost you $500,000 regardless of size (I made that up). But that hits extremely small rockets much harder than medium or large rockets. The penalty for not being 5 times larger is proportionally greater for teeny tiny rockets than it is for medium and large rockets.

Is Starship meaningfully more expensive per kg than a vehicle 3x larger? Probably not. At some point, raw propellant costs start to matter and that doesnít change much with size.

But for Electron? Absolutely. Huge difference in cost per kg by going 3x larger.

There are also drawbacks to scale. Certain recovery methods are not feasible at larger scale. The list of launch sites you can choose from shrinks as you get larger. So much so that Starship may be forced to do most of their launches off-shore.
« Last Edit: 03/02/2021 04:21 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #252 on: 03/02/2021 04:26 pm »
So there are a lot of minimum costs for launch vehicles. Like, I dunno, a launch license might cost you $500,000 regardless of size (I made that up). But that hits extremely small rockets much harder than medium or large rockets. The penalty for not being 5 times larger is proportionally greater for teeny tiny rockets than it is for medium and large rockets.

Is Starship meaningfully more expensive per kg than a vehicle 3x larger? Probably not. At some point, raw propellant costs start to matter and that doesnít change much with size.

But for Electron? Absolutely. Huge difference in cost per kg by going 3x larger.

There are also drawbacks to scale. Certain recovery methods are not feasible at larger scale. The list of launch sites you can choose from shrinks as you get larger. So much so that Starship may be forced to do most of their launches off-shore.

All of the technical discussion aside for a moment, who honestly gets excited about a sci fi future where upper stages deploy a chute and get caught by a helicopter, as opposed to coming in hot and landing propulsively?

The helicopter catch feels positively antiquated by comparison. Letís dream big instead.

Offline su27k

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #253 on: 03/02/2021 04:30 pm »
A fully reusable rocket could touch those things. Starship will have a $/kg advantage if the flight rate can be high enough, but not all those markets will have the volume or revenue to justify Starship scale.

Also, Neutron is large enough diameter that it could conceivably be evolved (ala Falcon 9) to get about 20 tons IMLEO fully reusable, which is technically heavy lift.

Letís say, for example, I want to launch some astronauts to fix a satellite (maybe a big 100 ton satellite launched on Starship). I just need a quick repair, I have no need for a full Starship. I may pick an evolved fully reusable Neutron instead to spend, say, $3 million instead of $7 million.

Can't be $3M unless you get the spaceship for free. Remember Starship is not just a launch vehicle, it's a spacecraft.

Besides, the example I gave didn't include satellite servicing by astronauts, all the markets I listed would benefit significantly from Starship's scale to the point competitors at lower scale would have difficulty to compete. Note I'm not arguing Starship will make everyone else obsolete or there won't be need for smaller rockets, I'm just saying Starship will open large new markets for SpaceX.

And the flight rate argument is not as straight forward as you think, since the calculation that $/kg will only decrease at high flight rate is based on the assumption that your fixed cost needed to be entirely amortized by launch. That's not the case for Starship, for example it's entirely possible by 2030 SLS/Orion would be dead and Starship will be one of the two vendors for NASA BLEO needs, that's at least $2B revenue per year which can be used to pay for the annual fixed cost for Starship, then you can just sell Starship launches at marginal cost, which is sort of what SpaceX is doing with F9 rideshares right now.

Online trimeta

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #254 on: 03/02/2021 04:38 pm »
Can't be $3M unless you get the spaceship for free. Remember Starship is not just a launch vehicle, it's a spacecraft.

Funny you mention that, actually, because if Neutron also has a third kickstage, similar to Photon, then part of the price could be "and we'll throw in the satellite bus, if you want it, since it's there anyway." Of course, a non-reusable kickstage kind of puts a damper on these cost estimates...but if Electron is still in regular use, they'd still be pumping out Photons, and so could maybe literally just use one with Neutron for not much more cost.

Offline RotoSequence

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #255 on: 03/02/2021 04:38 pm »
Letís say, for example, I want to launch some astronauts to fix a satellite (maybe a big 100 ton satellite launched on Starship). I just need a quick repair, I have no need for a full Starship. I may pick an evolved fully reusable Neutron instead to spend, say, $3 million instead of $7 million.

This is the problem I have always had with Starship - it's way, way too big for the market.  What if someone were to do a smaller version of Starship, and entirely absorb the market simply by having the right size of fully reusable vehicle - one designed for the market instead of for Mars.

I don't follow. So far as I can determine, Starship's size is effectively not relevant to operational costs until the system complexity is detrimental to its reliability. If the launch is $2 million, the launch is $2 million. If the launch is $20 million, the launch is $20 million. You don't have to fill the payload bay any more than it takes to satisfy a given launch customer (or customers). For sufficiently low costs, if that means putting 500 kilograms into orbit with a launch vehicle that can do 100,000, whatever; it's still the cheapest route, even if they do or do not divide the launch costs out across more customers.
« Last Edit: 03/02/2021 04:39 pm by RotoSequence »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #256 on: 03/02/2021 04:39 pm »
So there are a lot of minimum costs for launch vehicles. Like, I dunno, a launch license might cost you $500,000 regardless of size (I made that up). But that hits extremely small rockets much harder than medium or large rockets. The penalty for not being 5 times larger is proportionally greater for teeny tiny rockets than it is for medium and large rockets.

Is Starship meaningfully more expensive per kg than a vehicle 3x larger? Probably not. At some point, raw propellant costs start to matter and that doesnít change much with size.

But for Electron? Absolutely. Huge difference in cost per kg by going 3x larger.

There are also drawbacks to scale. Certain recovery methods are not feasible at larger scale. The list of launch sites you can choose from shrinks as you get larger. So much so that Starship may be forced to do most of their launches off-shore.

All of the technical discussion aside for a moment, who honestly gets excited about a sci fi future where upper stages deploy a chute and get caught by a helicopter, as opposed to coming in hot and landing propulsively?

The helicopter catch feels positively antiquated by comparison. Letís dream big instead.
Drones, then. :)

And who knows, maybe theyíd opt for this kind of reuse:

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Offline Lee Jay

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #257 on: 03/02/2021 04:44 pm »
All of the technical discussion aside for a moment, who honestly gets excited about a sci fi future where upper stages deploy a chute and get caught by a helicopter, as opposed to coming in hot and landing propulsively?

Me.

Quote
The helicopter catch feels positively antiquated by comparison. Letís dream big instead.

Propulsive landing seems positively stupid to me, at least if you have an atmosphere to push against.

Offline sanman

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #258 on: 03/02/2021 05:01 pm »
All of the technical discussion aside for a moment, who honestly gets excited about a sci fi future where upper stages deploy a chute and get caught by a helicopter, as opposed to coming in hot and landing propulsively?

Me.

Quote
The helicopter catch feels positively antiquated by comparison. Letís dream big instead.

Propulsive landing seems positively stupid to me, at least if you have an atmosphere to push against.

Could parachutes work for something as large as the Neutron's booster stage?

Could an unmanned/remotely-piloted helicopter of sufficient size and power catch-&-carry it back?
« Last Edit: 03/02/2021 05:02 pm by sanman »

Offline Lee Jay

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Re: Rocket Lab Neutron rocket - Discussion
« Reply #259 on: 03/02/2021 05:07 pm »
All of the technical discussion aside for a moment, who honestly gets excited about a sci fi future where upper stages deploy a chute and get caught by a helicopter, as opposed to coming in hot and landing propulsively?

Me.

Quote
The helicopter catch feels positively antiquated by comparison. Letís dream big instead.

Propulsive landing seems positively stupid to me, at least if you have an atmosphere to push against.

Could parachutes work for something as large as the Neutron's booster stage?

Easily.

Quote
Could an unmanned/remotely-piloted helicopter of sufficient size and power catch-&-carry it back?

There's no helicopter in the world large enough for that.

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