Companies Explore Transporting Cargo on Rockets

Rockets have a clear speed advantage over jets.

The U.S. military is exploring ways to transport weapons, supplies and maybe even people across the world at record speeds. This wouldn’t be on an airplane, but rather, rockets. 

Aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab recently signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) to possibly make this a reality. 

The agreement supports the Air Force’s Rocket Cargo program, one of the branch’s Vanguard programs designed to advance concepts with prototyping and experimentation. 

And they’re not alone. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Space Corporation and Virgin Orbit are also exploring point-to-point transportation via rockets. 

While a jet needs air to move, rockets possess a speed advantage because they can reach high points of the atmosphere and have less air to pierce. 

Rocket Lab wants to use its Neutron and Electron launch vehicles to transport cargo. You might remember the Electron rocket, which Rocket Lab attempted to catch with a helicopter in mid-air as it returned from space.

The mission, dubbed “There And Back Again,” partially worked as the helicopter briefly caught the rocket. However, the crew was forced to drop it shortly after for safety reasons. But CEO Peter Beck called the fix “trivial” and wants to try again

According to Rocket Lab, Neutron builds on Electron and features a larger payload capacity. It is also designed for frequent re-flight, allowing fast deployment and eliminating en-route stops and air refueling. 

The company also wants to see if its Photon spacecraft can establish “cargo depots” in Earth’s orbit. The idea is that the spacecraft can return to Earth’s atmosphere to transport supplies to a targeted area. 

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