Author Topic: Neutron vs F9R and SS  (Read 59162 times)

Offline TrevorMonty

Neutron vs F9R and SS
« on: 12/17/2021 10:56 pm »
These discussions keep coming up all time in other threads and end up ruining them. Best have dedicated place for diehard fans from either company plus few us that think both are doing great job but with different approaches.

Neutron Vs SS
Lets start with basic economics a dedicated 8t RLV is going be cheaper than fully reuseable 150 RLV. Both companies labour costs per employee will be similar and both have access to same industry tools.
There is no way 30 x 250t powered booster is going to be cheaper to build and operate than 7x100t powered booster. Build costs will be relative, that includes launch infrastucture. I don't believe Neutron booster will be 20th cost to operate but 5-10 is quite realistic.
When in comes to operating costs accounting always factors in return on initial investment. $5B development of RLV is going need x10 more money per launch than $500m for smaller RLV, assume both have same number of missions per year. NB not x10 launch cost but x10 money from launch cost to payback investment.I going assume very conservative 10% a year which is $500m(SS) and $50m(Neutron) amortised over X launches are year. For 20 launches that is additional $25 & $2.5M respectively per launch which is added to other launch costs.
Build cost of boosters have to be amortise over X launches assume 100 launch live per booster that is $1m launch for $100m booster. Neutron should be x5-10 cheaper.
Refurbishment between launches, this is replacement engines and heatshields etc every so many missions. SpaceX has head start here with experienced gain from F9R, RL should learn a lot when they start reusing Electron.

Neutron is using cheap expendable US with known build cost, RL are experienced enough with Electron that there shouldn't be any surprises here. SS is using a reuseable US, this is big unknown and totally new territory for Spacex with Shuttle being the only other reuseable US that has experienced same reentry conditions. There are lot lessons SpaceX will take from Shuttle but    until Spacex recover an few SS they won't know operating costs. I'm going saying operating costs for both US are same of course one is lifting x20 mass. SS's $/kg to LEO will be far cheaper than Neutron question is how much x3, x5, x10, x20?.
My guess is Neutron will be at less 5th cost of SS to launch.

When comes F9R I'm going say Neutron will match on $/kg. That $25M for 8t compared to F9R $50M for 16t. Booster should have long live and be cheaper to turn around plus they get fairings back every time. Payload integration should also be lot easier, attach to US and drop into top of Neutron. Live of F9R booster is yet to be determined but I doubt it will be close to Neutron given its toasty reentry.

Price of RLV launch is made up of following.
Launch costs.
Amortise of RLVs build/replacement cost.
Amortise of development costs.
Most importantly profit.

Launch costs are mained up of following
LV turn around costs ie recovery, refurbishment, refuelling, replacement fairing and US if expendable, range costs etc, wear and tear of pad. Bigger LV bigger these costs but they aren't linear 100t LV could be x3 costs of 10t LV.

Feel free to come up with your own costs but may sure you do maths and basic accounting to back them.


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« Last Edit: 12/17/2021 11:09 pm by TrevorMonty »

Offline ZachF

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #1 on: 12/17/2021 11:53 pm »
Honestly, I doubt that Neutron is going to beat F9R RTLS in per launch costs, never mind $/kg…at least not for several years. F9 operationally is a well oiled machine at this point, and will only be even more so when Neutron flies and they have another 100+ launches under their belt. They will get business for being close and “not SpaceX” but they really need to go full reuse ASAP. If they do, they could certainly carve out a strong niche, and build from there.

I don’t think the manufacturing cost of a neutron upper stage will be much different than an F9 upper stage. I would guess also that a neutron booster will cost more (perhaps 2x or more) than a F9 first stage.
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Offline Davidthefat

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #2 on: 12/18/2021 12:17 am »
Arguing costs on a vehicle that’s still in development and not flying yet mean nothing. I can promise you to sell you a new car at $10k, but my ability to deliver on that means nothing until I do.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #3 on: 12/18/2021 02:30 am »
Honestly, I doubt that Neutron is going to beat F9R RTLS in per launch costs, never mind $/kg…at least not for several years. F9 operationally is a well oiled machine at this point, and will only be even more so when Neutron flies and they have another 100+ launches under their belt. They will get business for being close and “not SpaceX” but they really need to go full reuse ASAP. If they do, they could certainly carve out a strong niche, and build from there.

I don’t think the manufacturing cost of a neutron upper stage will be much different than an F9 upper stage. I would guess also that a neutron booster will cost more (perhaps 2x or more) than a F9 first stage.
Its not just F9R $/kg they need to match but also Firefly Beta and Relativity Terran R. This will be competitive launch market.



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Offline Yggdrasill

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #4 on: 12/18/2021 09:37 am »
Lets start with basic economics a dedicated 8t RLV is going be cheaper than fully reuseable 150 RLV. Both companies labour costs per employee will be similar and both have access to same industry tools.
There is no way 30 x 250t powered booster is going to be cheaper to build and operate than 7x100t powered booster. Build costs will be relative, that includes launch infrastucture. I don't believe Neutron booster will be 20th cost to operate but 5-10 is quite realistic.
I agree Neutron will be cheaper to build. To operate is a different matter. We are comparing a partially reusable rocket to a fully reusable rocket. Things like infrastructure costs are highly dependant on launch cadence. I think it's possible you may see 300 launches/year from Boca Chica alone, which allows for quite low infrastructure costs.

A partially reusable rocket like Neutron can't realistically match the launch cadence of a fully reusable rocket, and you may see 20-50 launches per year, maybe?

That means that the launch infrastructure of Starship can be 6-15 times more costly, for equivalent cost per launch. And the infrastructure for Neutron likely won't be trivial. You would really have to do the payload integration indoors, as the alternative is to have sea gulls shit all over the payload. That means you need a 50-ish meter high bay. We'll see whether the high bay will move to the rocket or whether the rocket will move to the high bay, and then back to the pad.

(There are a lot of assumptions here, and it's way to early to tell how accurate those are.)
When in comes to operating costs accounting always factors in return on initial investment. $5B development of RLV is going need x10 more money per launch than $500m for smaller RLV, assume both have same number of missions per year. NB not x10 launch cost but x10 money from launch cost to payback investment.I going assume very conservative 10% a year which is $500m(SS) and $50m(Neutron) amortised over X launches are year. For 20 launches that is additional $25 & $2.5M respectively per launch which is added to other launch costs.
Build cost of boosters have to be amortise over X launches assume 100 launch live per booster that is $1m launch for $100m booster. Neutron should be x5-10 cheaper.
Generally, development costs are not amortised. They are included in R&D, which comes straight out of gross profit at the time the costs are incurred. (Or do you have some source that says otherwise? SpaceX is private, so there's not much visibility into their specific accounting.)

Development costs may factor into the margin threshold that SpaceX will be looking for to accept a launch contract, but they don't have to be factored in when calculating gross profit. SpaceX could just think to themselves that they will recover the development costs over the next million launches, and just forget about them.


Refurbishment between launches, this is replacement engines and heatshields etc every so many missions. SpaceX has head start here with experienced gain from F9R, RL should learn a lot when they start reusing Electron.

Neutron is using cheap expendable US with known build cost, RL are experienced enough with Electron that there shouldn't be any surprises here. SS is using a reuseable US, this is big unknown and totally new territory for Spacex with Shuttle being the only other reuseable US that has experienced same reentry conditions. There are lot lessons SpaceX will take from Shuttle but    until Spacex recover an few SS they won't know operating costs. I'm going saying operating costs for both US are same of course one is lifting x20 mass. SS's $/kg to LEO will be far cheaper than Neutron question is how much x3, x5, x10, x20?.
My guess is Neutron will be at less 5th cost of SS to launch.
My guess would be something like:

Neutron:

Second stage cost: $8 million/launch
First stage cost: $60 million / 15 launches = $4 million/launch
Propellant cost: $200k/launch
Range costs: $2 million/launch
Pad infrastructure costs: $2 million/launch
First stage refurbishment: $500k/launch
Minimum gross margin: 20%

Total: $20.9 million per launch

Starship:

Second stage cost: $75 million / 20 launches = $3.75 million/launch
First stage cost: $125 million / 75 launches = $1.67 million/launch
Propellant cost: $1 million /launch
Range costs: $2 million/launch
Pad infrastructure costs: $4 million/launch
Second stage refurbishment: $1 million/launch
First stage refurbishment: $500k/launch
Minimum gross margin: 20%

Total: $17.4 million per launch

(But again, one huge factor here is launch cadence. All Neutron has to do to reduce the cost below Starship is to fly more often than what I'm assuming here. I'm also assuming SpaceX is able to capitalize on their experience in reusing boosters, and gets more reuses and low refurbishment costs. Neutron 2.0 could maybe get closer to SpaceX, and reduce cost further.)
« Last Edit: 12/18/2021 09:47 am by Yggdrasill »

Offline ZachF

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #5 on: 12/18/2021 12:52 pm »
I’m on my phone so can’t write out a longer/better response, but I’ll add in quickly that I have extensively studied cost scaling with size, and generally speaking cost scales to the 0.6-0.8 power of size.
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Offline Kaputnik

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #6 on: 12/18/2021 01:28 pm »
Neutron:

Second stage cost: $8 million/launch
First stage cost: $60 million / 15 launches = $4 million/launch
Propellant cost: $200k/launch
Range costs: $2 million/launch
Pad infrastructure costs: $2 million/launch
First stage refurbishment: $500k/launch
Minimum gross margin: 20%

Total: $20.9 million per launch

Starship:

Second stage cost: $75 million / 20 launches = $3.75 million/launch
First stage cost: $125 million / 75 launches = $1.67 million/launch
Propellant cost: $1 million /launch
Range costs: $2 million/launch
Pad infrastructure costs: $4 million/launch
Second stage refurbishment: $1 million/launch
First stage refurbishment: $500k/launch
Minimum gross margin: 20%

Total: $17.4 million per launch

To give Neutron a 15-flight lifespan, and SH a 75-flight one, seems a little bit unfair, no? Or is that the nature of CF vs S/S?
Secondly, and related, giving each stage the same refurb cost again seems a bit unfair on Neutron. 7 simple GG engines vs 30 FFSC ones?
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Offline Yggdrasill

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #7 on: 12/18/2021 01:47 pm »
To give Neutron a 15-flight lifespan, and SH a 75-flight one, seems a little bit unfair, no? Or is that the nature of CF vs S/S?
Secondly, and related, giving each stage the same refurb cost again seems a bit unfair on Neutron. 7 simple GG engines vs 30 FFSC ones?
Maybe it is, but as I said, I am giving SpaceX a lot of credit for having successfully landed 100 98 99 boosters. It's naive to think Rocket Lab doesn't have lessons to learn, and won't over time have to iterate on Neutron and Archimedes.

I'm also giving SpaceX a lot of credit for having a huge head start. When do you think Neutron first stage reusability will start getting reliable? I'm thinking maybe 2025, and that's if they don't have huge delays for some reason or other. At that point Starship may have flown over a hundred times.

The situation in 2025-ish is really what I was thinking of when I made my guesstimates. If you push the date further out, Neutron will likely be cheaper, but so will Starship.
« Last Edit: 12/19/2021 11:23 am by Yggdrasill »

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #8 on: 12/18/2021 01:52 pm »
Economies of scale are a major differentiator. Elon genuinely wants to launch Starship 1000 times a year. Neutron will be lucky to launch 50 times a year.

The resultant dilution of fixed costs for Starship compared to Neutron presents an unbridgeable gulf for Rocletlab.

Offline ArbitraryConstant

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #9 on: 12/18/2021 02:59 pm »
Economies of scale are a major differentiator. Elon genuinely wants to launch Starship 1000 times a year. Neutron will be lucky to launch 50 times a year.
Seems to me just because that's the ambition doesn't at all suggest it's realistic. There's no existing payloads or any other activity, not even starlink, that can support that. So in its way I think it's rather more speculative than anything RL wants to do.

Offline Yggdrasill

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #10 on: 12/18/2021 03:20 pm »
Seems to me just because that's the ambition doesn't at all suggest it's realistic. There's no existing payloads or any other activity, not even starlink, that can support that. So in its way I think it's rather more speculative than anything RL wants to do.
1000 launches a year probably won't happen until they actively start building a city on Mars.

But I think 100 launches per year likely isn't that far off, I would guess around 2025-2027. They could do 10 launches for Starlink, 15 launches for HLS (mostly tankers), maybe 30 commercial satellite launches, 20 tourist flights ($500k for a week in orbit would be popular) and 25 launches for Mars (again, mostly tankers). I don't think this is too far out there.
« Last Edit: 12/18/2021 03:21 pm by Yggdrasill »

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #11 on: 12/18/2021 06:40 pm »
Seems to me just because that's the ambition doesn't at all suggest it's realistic. There's no existing payloads or any other activity, not even starlink, that can support that. So in its way I think it's rather more speculative than anything RL wants to do.
1000 launches a year probably won't happen until they actively start building a city on Mars.

But I think 100 launches per year likely isn't that far off, I would guess around 2025-2027. They could do 10 launches for Starlink, 15 launches for HLS (mostly tankers), maybe 30 commercial satellite launches, 20 tourist flights ($500k for a week in orbit would be popular) and 25 launches for Mars (again, mostly tankers). I don't think this is too far out there.
20 launches per year both LVs is realistic starting point for cost comparsions. F9R is only doing around 25 at present with majority of that being Starlink. Neutron could reach that if they are deploying Kuiper constellation.

Until we know differently assume both  Neutron and SH have same life eg 100 missions. With refurbishment costs relative to their size and engine count.




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Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #12 on: 12/18/2021 06:47 pm »

And the infrastructure for Neutron likely won't be trivial. You would really have to do the payload integration indoors, as the alternative is to have sea gulls shit all over the payload. That means you need a 50-ish meter high bay. We'll see whether the high bay will move to the rocket or whether the rocket will move to the high bay, and then back to the pad.


I can see RL rolling Neutron into high bay to load US and payload in controlled enviroment.

As SpaceX has demostrated Mammoet type trailers are realitively cheap way to move these large LVs around launch facility. No need for expensive mobile high bays rolling on train tracks.





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« Last Edit: 12/18/2021 07:01 pm by TrevorMonty »

Offline ZachF

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #13 on: 12/18/2021 08:55 pm »
20 launches per year both LVs is realistic starting point for cost comparsions. F9R is only doing around 25 at present with majority of that being Starlink. Neutron could reach that if they are deploying Kuiper constellation.

Until we know differently assume both  Neutron and SH have same life eg 100 missions. With refurbishment costs relative to their size and engine count.


Why should we assume any of these things?

Starship is already ahead of Neutron by several years…they aren’t at the same level of development. It will probably fly in a couple months. Raptor exists and has flown test prototypes several times. There is an actual rocket undergoing testing right now.

Neutron probably won’t fly until 2025. That’s a decade after SpaceX landed its first booster!  (Time flies!) It’ll probably be at least 2028-9 until they get it where Falcon 9 is today if they execute perfectly. Starship will probably be flying 20+ times a year before a physical Neutron even exists.

A lot of people have unrealistic expectations TBH. I like Neutron and I am rooting for them, but I think people underestimate how far ahead SpaceX is. It will take a long time for another organization to equal the institutional knowledge base they have in engineering, operations, and manufacturing. SpaceX has already been iterating things for years that RL hasn’t even done once yet.

And honestly, after they fly it, they need to keep the throttle going and make it fully reusable ASAP. Throwing away a likely $10m upper stage will doom the mathematics.
« Last Edit: 12/18/2021 11:20 pm by ZachF »
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Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #14 on: 12/19/2021 12:40 am »
20 launches per year both LVs is realistic starting point for cost comparsions. F9R is only doing around 25 at present with majority of that being Starlink. Neutron could reach that if they are deploying Kuiper constellation.

Until we know differently assume both  Neutron and SH have same life eg 100 missions. With refurbishment costs relative to their size and engine count.


Why should we assume any of these things?

Starship is already ahead of Neutron by several years…they aren’t at the same level of development. It will probably fly in a couple months. Raptor exists and has flown test prototypes several times. There is an actual rocket undergoing testing right now.

Neutron probably won’t fly until 2025. That’s a decade after SpaceX landed its first booster!  (Time flies!) It’ll probably be at least 2028-9 until they get it where Falcon 9 is today if they execute perfectly. Starship will probably be flying 20+ times a year before a physical Neutron even exists.

A lot of people have unrealistic expectations TBH. I like Neutron and I am rooting for them, but I think people underestimate how far ahead SpaceX is. It will take a long time for another organization to equal the institutional knowledge base they have in engineering, operations, and manufacturing. SpaceX has already been iterating things for years that RL hasn’t even done once yet.

And honestly, after they fly it, they need to keep the throttle going and make it fully reusable ASAP. Throwing away a likely $10m upper stage will doom the mathematics.
Do you know expected life of each booster and US in case of SS?

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Offline ZachF

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #15 on: 12/19/2021 03:13 am »
20 launches per year both LVs is realistic starting point for cost comparsions. F9R is only doing around 25 at present with majority of that being Starlink. Neutron could reach that if they are deploying Kuiper constellation.

Until we know differently assume both  Neutron and SH have same life eg 100 missions. With refurbishment costs relative to their size and engine count.


Why should we assume any of these things?

Starship is already ahead of Neutron by several years…they aren’t at the same level of development. It will probably fly in a couple months. Raptor exists and has flown test prototypes several times. There is an actual rocket undergoing testing right now.

Neutron probably won’t fly until 2025. That’s a decade after SpaceX landed its first booster!  (Time flies!) It’ll probably be at least 2028-9 until they get it where Falcon 9 is today if they execute perfectly. Starship will probably be flying 20+ times a year before a physical Neutron even exists.

A lot of people have unrealistic expectations TBH. I like Neutron and I am rooting for them, but I think people underestimate how far ahead SpaceX is. It will take a long time for another organization to equal the institutional knowledge base they have in engineering, operations, and manufacturing. SpaceX has already been iterating things for years that RL hasn’t even done once yet.

And honestly, after they fly it, they need to keep the throttle going and make it fully reusable ASAP. Throwing away a likely $10m upper stage will doom the mathematics.
Do you know expected life of each booster and US in case of SS?

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Officially I think SS is aiming for 100+ and 10+ for Neutron, it will likely take iterations for both to reach their targets.

I do think neutron could become a fully reusable launcher eventually, and carve out a niche for itself if it can get its per-launch cost below Starship.
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Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #16 on: 12/19/2021 06:29 am »


20 launches per year both LVs is realistic starting point for cost comparsions. F9R is only doing around 25 at present with majority of that being Starlink. Neutron could reach that if they are deploying Kuiper constellation.

Until we know differently assume both  Neutron and SH have same life eg 100 missions. With refurbishment costs relative to their size and engine count.


Why should we assume any of these things?

Starship is already ahead of Neutron by several years…they aren’t at the same level of development. It will probably fly in a couple months. Raptor exists and has flown test prototypes several times. There is an actual rocket undergoing testing right now.

Neutron probably won’t fly until 2025. That’s a decade after SpaceX landed its first booster!  (Time flies!) It’ll probably be at least 2028-9 until they get it where Falcon 9 is today if they execute perfectly. Starship will probably be flying 20+ times a year before a physical Neutron even exists.

A lot of people have unrealistic expectations TBH. I like Neutron and I am rooting for them, but I think people underestimate how far ahead SpaceX is. It will take a long time for another organization to equal the institutional knowledge base they have in engineering, operations, and manufacturing. SpaceX has already been iterating things for years that RL hasn’t even done once yet.

And honestly, after they fly it, they need to keep the throttle going and make it fully reusable ASAP. Throwing away a likely $10m upper stage will doom the mathematics.
Do you know expected life of each booster and US in case of SS?

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Officially I think SS is aiming for 100+ and 10+ for Neutron, it will likely take iterations for both to reach their targets.


Where do those numbers come from?


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Offline ArbitraryConstant

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #17 on: 12/19/2021 06:55 am »
Starship is already ahead of Neutron by several years…they aren’t at the same level of development. It will probably fly in a couple months. Raptor exists and has flown test prototypes several times. There is an actual rocket undergoing testing right now.
The issue though is that SS is attempting something much more difficult, whereas Neutron is primarily a refinement of an existing reuse model.

A lot of people have unrealistic expectations TBH.
I get similar impressions for SS, to be perfectly honest. Even if it launches from Brownsville in the next year it won't be taking on Starlink launches until later, since the 53-deg azimuth overflies land. Musk claims land overflights are allowable but I would prefer to hear that from a source that didn't get grounded for screwing up the authorizations...

Offline Yggdrasill

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #18 on: 12/19/2021 08:00 am »
The issue though is that SS is attempting something much more difficult, whereas Neutron is primarily a refinement of an existing reuse model.
Super Heavy reuse is also just a refinement of an existing reuse model.

What's fundamentally new about Starship (aside from it's size), is upper stage reuse. That's why I only assumed twenty reuses and upped the refurbishment cost.

I get similar impressions for SS, to be perfectly honest. Even if it launches from Brownsville in the next year it won't be taking on Starlink launches until later, since the 53-deg azimuth overflies land. Musk claims land overflights are allowable but I would prefer to hear that from a source that didn't get grounded for screwing up the authorizations...
They could do a dogleg maneuver, though I'm not sure exactly how much of a payload hit it would be. Initial Starlink missions flying on Starship are likely fairly light. They've suggested deploying one orbital plane per launch, at up to 120 satellites. The gen 2 satellites are supposed to be somewhat bigger, so if we assume they are 350 kg, that means the payload is only 42 tons. Well within the expected 150 ton capability (before the planned second stage tank stretch).

Offline hkultala

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Re: Neutron vs F9R and SS
« Reply #19 on: 12/19/2021 08:46 am »
Officially I think SS is aiming for 100+ and 10+ for Neutron, it will likely take iterations for both to reach their targets.

What you think is not official.

It's only what you think.

You are confusing Falcon 9 with neutron.
« Last Edit: 12/19/2021 08:47 am by hkultala »

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