Cutting-Edge Spacecraft Components Factory Unveiled by Rocket Lab
Nov 25, 2023
Aerospace company Rocket Lab announced plans last week to open a new production complex in Middle River, Maryland focused on composite products and structures. The 113,000-square-foot facility dubbed the Space Structures Complex, will develop and manufacture components like spacecraft buses, structural panels, satellite dispensers, heat shields, and launch accessories made of carbon composite materials.
The new site will support Rocket Lab’s efforts to expand the delivery of composites to customers as well as internal needs as the company scales up operations. It also serves as a key part of the production chain for Rocket Lab’s Neutron rocket. Neutron is the medium-lift successor to Electron, currently the only reusable small orbital rocket with a 3D-printed engine.
“We have the experienced team, manufacturing and test equipment, established supply chain, and heritage to deliver reliable composite products to the space industry at scale,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “And because we’re deeply vertically integrated, we can do it fast and at competitive prices. We’re incredibly excited to bring advanced Rocket Lab composite products to market for our customers.”
The Maryland complex will complement similar composite work at other Rocket Lab sites like the headquarters and test facilities in Long Beach, California, and the New Zealand HQ. But its location near Rocket Lab’s test complex in Virginia provides strategic value. The Neutron and Electron rockets are currently in development and production at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
“We are excited to support Rocket Lab in expanding Maryland’s efforts in the space industry,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said in the announcement.
This will be Rocket Lab’s second facility in Maryland. They already operate a separate site focused on satellite separation systems and CubeSat dispensers. The Maryland Department of Commerce has supported the latest expansion with a $1.56 million repayable loan.
In recent months, Rocket Lab has been expanding operations across the board. This includes opening a new Engine Development Center in Long Beach, California, located in the former headquarters of the now-defunct Virgin Orbit. Additionally, the 113,000-square-foot composite production facility in Middle River, Maryland will help ensure a steady supply of materials for Rocket Lab’s Neutron rocket. The Middle River site is a former Lockheed Martin facility that has a long history in aerospace manufacturing going back to 1929. After acquiring the Virgin Orbit property following its bankruptcy, Rocket Lab is using it to increase production of next-generation rocket engines like Rutherford and Archimedes that will power future launch vehicles. The expansion of sites in California and Maryland highlights Rocket Lab’s strategy of vertical integration and increasing production capacity across the rocket design, manufacture, and launch process.
The opening of the Maryland composites facility and other sites highlight Rocket Lab’s status as a leader in small launch vehicles. They aim to leverage vertical integration and advanced technologies like 3D printing to provide responsive, dedicated rides to orbit for small satellites. The planned Neutron rocket promises to extend its capabilities to medium and large payload classes as well. With expansions across manufacturing, testing, and launch infrastructure, Rocket Lab is positioning itself for this future.