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Who will win the human spaceflight race?3 min read

March 11, 2021 2 min read


Who will win the human spaceflight race?3 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

With NASA’s full attention now on landing people on Mars and the moon, they have endorsed two private companies in trying to send astronauts back to the ISS: SpaceX, which has already sent a total of 6 people off of two missions since May 2020, and Boeing, which has yet to launch a single manned capsule.

Recently, the Neutron rocket was unveiled by a company that is eager to break into the human spaceflight sector. Let’s see if you can remember this company.

Here’s a hint: It has an Electron rocket already part of it’s fleet, and we have already featured it, here.

Have you guessed it yet? It’s Rocket Lab! 

Why Neutron?

Rocket Lab entered the space sector a few years ago, but it wasn’t well-known until the repeated success of its Electron rocket. So, keeping with the subatomic particles theme, it named its new rocket Neutron.

The Structure of an Atom Explained With a Labeled Diagram - Science Struck
Image: ScienceStruck

When will it be launched?

Rocket Lab announced that its initial plans are that the Neutron will first launch in 2024, but these plans are subject to change. Rocket Lab decided on a 40m tall rocket which is half the size of the Falcon 9. It has a capacity of 8 metric tons. This means it can carry a little bit more than the weight of an elephant! 

SpaceX has new competition from Rocket Lab's reusable Neutron rocket - CNET
A quick comparison of the Electron and the Neutron. Source: CNET

Who else is building these rockets?

The short answer is yes. But, most of them have not completed their full process yet. While Rocket Lab has yet to get into the process, Blue Origin, founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has already repeatedly tested in hopes of reaching the human spaceflight flight soon. The same goes for Boeing, which is producing its Starliner capsule. Boeing, who has a 3.4 billion USD contract from NASA to produce its Starliner capsule, is also on the path to bring humans to space. But SpaceX has gone the farthest, as it has already launched 2 missions already with humans on board.

It’s a race against time and companies to be the second company to achieve human spaceflight. With another company breaking into the sector, this sure is going to be an exciting race to watch!

Cover illustration: K.Y. Chan

(All Things Science is our column about science and other related topics)