Neutron on pad
Rocket Lab's Neutron features a distrinctive design the company says is intended to enable the vehicle to be rapidly reused and be cost-competitive with other medium-class rockets. Credit: Rocket Lab

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab announced Sept. 7 it has signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. military to explore the possibility of using the company’s space launch vehicles to transport cargo around the world.

The cooperative research and development agreement known as a CRADA was signed with U.S. Transportation Command, the organization that oversees global military logistics operations. The command has signed similar agreements with SpaceX and Blue Origin. These CRADAs support the U.S. Air Force’s rocket cargo project that is exploring concepts to transport equipment across Earth via space.

The agreement with Rocket Lab USA will examine the point-to-point transportation capabilities of the company’s small launcher Electron and its future reusable medium-lift rocket Neutron. It also will look at possible applications of the company’s Photon spacecraft as a platform for on-orbit cargo depots and as delivery re-entry vehicles.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement that point-to-point space transportation offers a “new ability to move equipment quickly around the world in hours, enabling a faster response to global emergencies and natural disasters.”

Beck said rocket cargo has the potential to offer the U.S. military new options for logistics operations that today depend entirely on ground, sea and air transportation. 

Jamie Malak, the CRADA’s government project lead at the Air Force Research Laboratory, said U.S. military combatant commands “have been constrained to logistics at the speed of conventional aircraft — or often far less — for their entire history. Now we can look to transport critical military cargo an order of magnitude faster than ever before.”

Under these agreements with commercial launch companies, he said, “we will explore how to integrate rocket cargo systems in defense logistics processes and how to make space transportation a reliable and practical option for operations of the future.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...