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Rocket Lab targets Neutron launch price to challenge SpaceX

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Rocket Lab is building a bigger, reusable launch vehicle called Neutron, and it’s targeting a price point near $50 million per launch to challenge Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

“We are positioning Neutron to compete directly with the Falcon 9,” Rocket Lab Chief Financial Officer Adam Spice said earlier this week, speaking at a Bank of America event in London on Tuesday.

The company announced Neutron when it went public in 2021, with Spice saying the rocket remains on track to debut in 2024. During its fourth-quarter report last month, Rocket Lab said it had begun producing the first tank structures of Neutron, as well as construction of the launch pad for the rocket. The company plans to conduct the first “hot fire test” of an Archimedes engine, which will power Neutron, “by the end of the year,” Spice said.

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SpaceX advertises a Falcon 9 launch with a $67 million price tag, and Spice says Rocket Lab is aiming to match that on a cost-per-kilogram basis for satellite customers. That means Neutron is targeting a “$50 million to $55 million launch service cost,” Spice said.

Spice also noted that Rocket Lab expects to fly the reusable Neutron boosters “10 to 20 times” each, in range with the current reuse performance of a Falcon 9 booster.

“We ultimately expect the margins to be in around the 50% range” for Neutron launches, Spice added. He estimated the cost of goods for each Neutron to be at $20 million to $25 million, with “close to half of that” coming from the upper, non-reusable second stage of the rocket.

Additionally, with SpaceX pushing hard to develop its massive Starship rocket, Spice alluded to the potential for the company to pivot away from flying Falcon 9 missions.

“We don’t have any hard data on that but certainly, if that was to happen, that’d be an incredibly bullish thing for Neutron,” Spice said.

In the meantime, Spice said Rocket Lab looks to maintain its position as “a dominant player” in the market sub-sector of launching small satellites with its Electron vehicles. The company expects to launch three Electron missions in the second quarter, with two already completed, and is “on track” to launch 15 missions this year, Spice said.

More than rockets

Spice also emphasized to the Bank of America audience that Rocket Lab is “much more than” just a rocket company. Indeed, the company’s acquisitions and expansion into building satellite components and spacecraft has become the bulk of its quarterly revenue.

“All of this leads towards the biggest opportunity in space, which is really on the application side,” Spice said.

As CEO Peter Beck has previously noted, Rocket Lab aims to create an “end-to-end platform for customers” who need space-based services. Spice said the company wants to be operating satellites and “delivering data to our customers and developing a recurring revenue stream from that,” essentially eliminating the need for other companies to build and operate their own satellites.

“A lot of the companies that we’re [launching to orbit on Electron] now are very unnatural owners of space assets,” Spice said, adding that “the best owner of a space asset is somebody who can launch.”

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