Space

How Rocket Lab questions the fundamentals of building both rockets and launch companies

Comment

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck in a light blue suit in front of a rocket.
Image Credits: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck has had an eventful couple of years, despite the unpredictable challenges that COVID-19 threw in the path of the rocket maker’s LA and New Zealand-based operations. Just this year, Rocket Lab had its public market debut, revealed its plans for a new medium-lift launch vehicle called Neutron and acquired two companies (on top of its first acquisition from 2020).

I spoke to Beck at our TC Sessions: Space 2021 event where we covered what’s new and special about Neutron, and how it leverages the pedigree of the company’s Electron rockets to challenge some assumptions about how bigger rockets are built. We also dove into his vision for Rocket Lab and what it aims to accomplish in terms of making it even easier for prospective customers to get their stuff to space.

Beck dished on everything from the unique way that Rocket Lab plans to land the reusable first stage of Neutron back on Earth, to the “Hungry Hippo”-type design of the fairing that allows it to avoid being discarded post-use. He also described his vision for what Rocket Lab hopes to become through its built-out of more service offerings, both through acquisitions and in-house product development.

Check out these excerpts, and then watch the full interview below.

On ditching landing legs and improving aerodynamics:

It’s all about removing as many components and as many complexities as possible [ … ] We had this epiphany one day, where we were like, we’re working on these landing legs, and we’re just going around in circles endlessly with mechanisms, and how are we going to service those mechanisms, and all the rest of it. And then we were like, let’s just stop, and let’s just not have landing legs. So let’s just have a wide enough base, so that we can resist any of the kind of tipping or creeping movements.

So we start off with this big wide base and drew a satellite in the payload and the upper stage top and the fairing diamond, and then just drew two lines that joined it all up, and it looked like a traffic cone. That’s actually the optimum vehicle: It has no legs, it’s just a nice stable kind of structure. And then as we started doing some of the CFD [computational fluid dynamics] on it, and some of the aerodynamics and some of the reentry work, and that traffic cone proved very useful, because you have this decreasing pressure over the length of the vehicle, which means you don’t have any shockwaves attaching to it, which is always a challenge with reentry.

On how to build a space company that actually serves the needs of modern customers:

My view is that in the future the large successful space companies are not going to be just a launch company or just a satellite company. Because when you combine those two things together, you get so much synergy, that it’s incredibly powerful [ … ] Depending on which report you read, it’s a $1.6 trillion industry or a $2 trillion industry by 2030, or whatever date you choose. But all of that is predicated on the fact that a lot of these programs are mega constellations, and a lot of these programs can actually deliver their services to orbit. Now, if you look across the space industry, it’s all kind of subscale. It’s a lot of really, really unique, bespoke little businesses doing amazing things all at subscale.

But in order for this to become a trillion dollar industry, fundamentally, something has to change in the industry, and there has to be somebody there at scale, producing all the things that everybody needs to be able to build their satellites and deploy their constellations. And you can bury your head in the sand and say, ‘Oh, someone else will do that,’ but ultimately, unless somebody sorts it out, there will be no mega constellations, there will be no trillion dollar space industry, and there will be no need for Neutron. So you’ve got to help create this environment that ultimately you want to participate and thrive in. The space systems part of the businesses is as much about enabling the trillion dollar industry as it is enjoying it.

Read more about TC Sessions: Space 2021 on TechCrunch

More TechCrunch

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’