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RocketLabs announced info about the new Neutron booster.

Neutron Booster video

Many interesting aspects summarized as:

  • The landing legs do not deploy, but are permanently mounted around a relatively wide rocket base.
  • The fairings never release. They open like a clamshell to allow the upper stage and payload to exit as a unit, and then close and return with the first stage.
  • The rocket body will be made from carbon fiber, which Beck claims Rocket Lab can manufacture fast.
  • The first stage will always return to the launch site rather than land on a barge in the ocean.
  • The rocket’s engine, dubbed Archimedes, is expected to do first static tests in ’22.

Summary taken from Behind The Black

The question I have, resolves around the fairing and the second stage. It seems they will encapsulate the entire second stage + payload inside the fairing.

This seems to be unique in rocketry to me. Are there examples of any other boosters that take this approach? Of appreciable size, I think, to limit it. Lets not include some micro sat launcher please.

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    $\begingroup$ Centaur in Atlas V 5XX configurations does this $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2021 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @BrendanLuke15 indeed, and there's a question about it here space.stackexchange.com/q/33255/6944 $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2021 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ I am fighting the urge to say "Shuttle" because I don't think that's what you mean, but it is a pretty good fit - first(ish) stage has doors, deploys upper stage plus payload, then closes doors & returns. Of course, it hauled a lot of other stuff along with that fairing... $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2021 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ Ixnay on the uttleShay. That does not count. Second stage, not upper stage. Shuttle orbiter is at least stage 2 itself, or 1.5 or whatever. I did not know about the Atlas 5xx. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Dec 3, 2021 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ There's some interesting implications to this. The Atlas V stages late, well out of the atmosphere. The Falcon 9 stages early, and the second stage keeps the fairings for a while to reduce aerodynamic stresses on the payload. With its fairings part of a reusable first stage, the Neutron must either stage relatively late, increasing the penalties of first stage recovery, or require the payload to handle relatively high aerodynamic forces and heating. Those aren't necessarily terrible, but it's a tradeoff you'll have to make with this approach. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2021 at 17:02

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The most obvious example is the Atlas V 5xx configuration. The fairing connects to the first stage, with the spacecraft on top. It still mostly supports its own weight, different than Neutron, but is at least in the same family.

enter image description here

There have been some Space Shuttle launched systems, planned and launched, that were kind of similar. The best example of this was the never launched Shuttle Centaur, but the Space Shuttle did launch some solid rockets on similar principals.

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