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Rocket Lab has signed an agreement to research cargo missions heading for Earth

Some Rocket Lab launches may soon target locations on Earth rather than destinations above and beyond the Earth's atmosphere. The California-based company announced Tuesday (Sept. 6) that it has signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) to investigate the possibility of delivering cargo around the world using Rocket Lab's Electron and upcoming Neutron launchers.

Rocket Lab USA, according to Jamie Malak, the CRADA's government project lead at the US Air Force Research Laboratory, will help the federal government comprehend private rocket capabilities for future logistical missions.

For their entire existence, USTRANSCOM and its worldwide Combatant Command clients have been confined to supplies at the pace of conventional aircraft, or frequently significantly less. We may now look forward to transporting essential military goods orders of magnitude faster than ever before. We will investigate how to incorporate rocket freight systems into Defense logistical procedures, as well as how to make space transportation a dependable and feasible alternative for future missions.

The 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron is Rocket Lab's workhorse small launch vehicle, having completed nearly 30 space flights. Neutron, which is expected to launch in 2024, is a larger rocket with a reusable first stage. (At present, Rocket Lab is aiming to make Electron's early stages reusable.) CRADA also incorporates Rocket Lab's Photon spacecraft bus, which recently launched NASA's small CAPSTONE mission toward the moon. The firm and USTRANSCOM, which transports soldiers and military cargo, will investigate the use of Photon spacecraft to build on-orbit storage depots and offer reentry capabilities.

Rocket Lab isn't the only startup being considered by the US military for its future point-to-point transportation needs. The Air Force awarded SpaceX a $102 million contract earlier this year to carry military cargo and humanitarian supplies by rocket. That agreement, though, is not the same as Rocket Lab's. Federal agencies use CRADAs to give private corporations and other non-federal organizations with equipment, facilities, knowledge, and other services, but not funds.

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