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Rocket Lab CEO on the newly unveiled Neutron Rocket

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Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the company's Neutron Rocket and the future of space travel.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: The next frontier is here. Rocket Lab showed us today what they are building. It is the neutron rocket. It is a larger rocket than the one they already are using to put satellites into orbit, powered by a phenomenal new engine, the Archimedes engine. But what some of us thought would be really cool is the composite material, and not metal, that is the skin of this beast of a vehicle.

Let's talk about where this is all headed with Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO. I have to say the video in which you explained to us what is being built by Rocket Lab-- we tend to focus on other rocket companies, and yet here you are, very quietly building the future. And that composite material is remarkable. Tell us how that makes what you're doing more efficient and [INAUDIBLE].

PETER BECK: Yeah, well, thanks very much, Adam. Last time we spoke, you told me I was too boring. So we made sure we looked at our game on the video. But, you know, quite honestly, the composite material is really important because when you're talking about launch vehicles, it's all a mass equation. So if you can take the mass out of all of the structures, then everything else becomes far, far easier. Propulsion becomes easier. Re-entry becomes easier. Landing the vehicle becomes easier. So we really focused on composite materials, as we have in the rockets behind us for our electronic product, and applied them to this new class of launch vehicle.

JARED BLIKRE: And the composite materials are pretty amazing. What I'm watching on the screen there is even more amazing, that vertical landing. And we've seen these before in the middle of the ocean. And I just want to say, one of my favorite games as a kid was Hungry, Hungry Hippo, and you've kind of adopted, co-opted some of that for the vehicle here. Tell us about it.

PETER BECK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, this is a reusable launch vehicle, but reusable back to the launch site. Because if you actually distill about out, you know, what actually drives cost in a rocket, it's not actually the building materials or the parts of the rocket, it's the operations. And if you can launch a rocket and return it back to the same place that you launched it, you save a tremendous amount of cost.

And the same goes with the [INAUDIBLE] and the nose cones. I mean, why throw them away? Let's just keep them together. And, you know, the composites materials kind of unlock all of that, because you have the ability to build really optimized structures from a mass perspective and make all these sorts of things possible.

ADAM SHAPIRO: What was really interesting in the explanation video, too, is when Jared says Hungry, Hungry Hippos, I was thinking Moonraker. That's how old I am when, you know, the thing opens up and the next vehicle comes out. But that's where you're going to be not only more efficient, but the Archimedes engine doesn't have to, as you point out, go full throttle because the composite material makes the rocket that much lighter. How is this going to give you an advantage? Because you also talk about in the next 10 years, the hundreds upon hundreds of smaller, lighter satellites that are going to be launched around the globe.

PETER BECK: Look, at the end of the day, this is all about creating access to space, doing it as affordably and as reliably as possible. And this is the vehicle that we're bringing to market that we think ultimately will open all of this up. So that's really the point of the whole program. It's optimized for constellation deployments, but equally well, it's suitable for human space flight and also, you know, interplanetary work, which we love to do as well.

JARED BLIKRE: And do you have any timetable for human launches in the spacecraft, if you haven't already?

PETER BECK: Yeah, look, I mean, our focus right now is on cargo. And we'll put a vehicle out on the pad in 2024 and start commercial flights in '25, all going well. Really, the human spaceflight market, we need to develop a little bit more. I mean, if we're honest, there's really one customer for human spaceflight right now, and that's NASA. And that customer is very well served with two great providers. So as we see the human spaceflight market continue to grow, we're making sure that we're poised to be able to take advantage of that.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Peter, my team has corrected me. It's not Moonraker. It's You Only Live Twice, but it's still a very cool Bond film. This composite material, is this proprietary for Rocket Lab? Because the demonstration you do with that steel girder slamming into it and nothing happens to it, the implications for that material in other uses, I would imagine, are tremendous.

PETER BECK: Well, I mean, look, composite materials have been used vastly in all other industries and applications. We were the first to ever build a carbon composite rocket and send it to orbit. And look, there is a high learning threshold to overcome to be able to use composite materials. But once that threshold is achieved, then, you know, it's pretty straightforward. So one of the key elements for us as well is not just the material itself, but the manufacturing process.

So, you know, typically, composites are-- people kind of complain that they're slow and expensive to build. And if you're doing it in a traditional sense, then that's true. But, you know, we're adopting automotive fiber placement machines, so kind of think of it like 3D printing carbon fiber, except you're not 3D printing millimeters a minute. You're printing meters a minute or yards a minute. So it's a very, very rapid way of building these high performance structures.

ADAM SHAPIRO: And just for the science geek inside me, I'm curious, this vehicle, does the composite material negate the need for the kind of tiles you see on the space shuttle, so that reentry, you don't have the fire or the potential for destruction of the rocket as it comes back to Earth?

PETER BECK: Well, this is a great thing. So, you know, weight or lightness on a launch vehicle is just supremely good in every way. And the lighter you can make it, the less problems you have. So if you'll notice, you'll see the neutron has got a very large base diameter. And that gives us a really good ballistic coefficient, meaning that when we reenter this atmosphere, we've got a lot of area. We let a lot of the atmosphere take care of the work. But that only works if the vehicle is very light.

I mean, think about standing on top of a roof and throwing off a tennis ball or throwing off an umbrella. You know, the tennis ball plummets to the Earth. The umbrella sort of gently floats down. And that's a real advantage of building such a lightweight vehicle, is that with a high ballistic coefficient, is the entry loads or the thermal loads on re-entry are far, far reduced.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Peter Beck, you are anything but boring. You are taking us where no one has gone before, to quote a Star Trek geek, me. All the best to you, and we look forward to developments on the neutron rocket and the Archimedes engines. Peter Beck is the CEO at Rocket Lab. Do come back soon.

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