Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck explains why a bigger, reusable rocket should be a money-maker.

Its an understatement to say it takes a risk-taker to build a rocket company from scratch in New Zealand.
But Peter Beck seems surprisingly nonchalant about Rocket Labs latest mission to build a much larger, reusable rocket to capture a different and larger slice of the satellite launch market.
Last weeks announcement that Rocket Lab would list on the United States stock exchange by the end of June with a US$4.1 billion ($5.7 b) valuation was eclipsed by its plan to build its new Neutron rockets.
They will stand 40 metres tall, versus Electrons 18m, but that does not get across the jump in scale.
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A better measure is that while its existing Electrons can carry a maximum of 300 kilograms into space, the Neutrons will be able to take a weight limit that is more than 25 times higher 8 metric tons.
The Neutron will also be designed to be capable of launching humans into space.
While that isnt the main reason it is being built, Beck says it is easier to go through the certification processes for crewed flights upfront.
By reusable, he is not talking about fetching rocket bodies from the ocean or hooking them by helicopter as they drop back down to earth, as is the approach with its Electrons.
He hints at significant innovations, but says at a high level the goal will be to power the first stage of its two-stage Neutron rockets back down to the ground in controlled landings downrange from its launchpads, SpaceX style.
Indeed, Rocket Labs Neutron was quickly compared by SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk to its own Falcon 9 rockets in a sportsman-like tweet.
Similar, but not the same, as the Falcon 9 has a larger payload still of more than 22 tonnes.
It is here that Beck sees an opportunity to steal a commercial march on his rival.
Neutron will be right-sized to serve as the work horse of the future by capturing all but the extreme end of the larger end of the launch market, he says.
The average launch mass over history has been 4.5 to 5 tonnes and you dont get any extra credit for a vehicle that can carry much more mass than that.
We believe that 8-tonne class soaks up the majority of the launch market for the next decade or so.
A larger vehicle costs more to build, fuel and launch, but the customer doesnt pay you more because you have twice the capacity, he says.
We have proved ourselves to pick the market trends. We did that with Electron and that product has gone gangbusters.
Rocket Lab will be able to bring some of the innovations and the muscle memory of learnings from its Electron rocket programme to the Neutron, he says.
The entire avionics, electronics and flight computer suite is identical and typically that investment in software would count for a third of vehicle development, so that is a huge piece that just walks across.
Whether you are developing a big rocket or a little rocket, the computer doesnt really care what scale it is at.
Once you have got all the scars of developing a launch vehicle, you know where the potholes are.
But the Neutron will need new engines as well as the extra systems needed for controlled landings.
Beck is equivocal on whether he has bet the business on the new rockets, suggesting that is not a question thats in play.
If any company brings a product to market that is a failure, that is generally pretty tough whether you are building rockets or skateboards.
But I dont think there is anybody in the industry who doubts Rocket Labs ability deliver this vehicle, he adds, demonstrating in a single sentence just how far Rocket Lab has come.
This is a far more straightforward programme than Electron ever was, he says.
With Electron we were all coming into this brand new.
It had the first 3D printed engine rocket engine and was the first all-carbon-composite rocket to go into orbit I can reel off a whole list.
RocketLab CEO Peter Beck poses for a portrait at the company’s Auckland headquarters.
Now Rocket Lab is in position to take all those learnings and start with a clean piece of paper without the constraints we have had in the past, Beck says.
A clean piece of paper and the US$750m in cash that will be on its books after the Nasdaq listing.
New Zealand looks set to benefit economically.
Rocket Lab will build a factory for Neutrons in the United States and first launch is scheduled to take place from Virginia in 2024.
But some of the design work will be done here, and Kiwis may one day get the chance to see one take off and land from Mahia Peninsular near Gisborne.
Just like all of projects the work is carved up around the world in divisions that have different expertise, Beck says, putting in the plug that the company currently has 70 vacancies to fill here.
Rocket Labs Neutron was quickly compared by SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk to its own Falcon 9 rockets.
With the Neutron programme we will be looking to hire significantly more both here and in the US.
For the US, engines are a strong core of expertise. In New Zealand, structure, analysis and design is a key strength, and in Canada spacecraft elements.
Beck says Rocket Lab would need to build a much larger launchpad and new infrastructure at its Mahia base to launch a Neutron from there.
Although there is no formal commitment to build a site in New Zealand, we understand the value of that, he says.
If it warrants us to do that and we need that extra capacity then of course we would.
In the meantime, the Electron programme will continue to grow as well, he says.
There will be no shortage of launches going from Mahia.