Rocket Lab turns old Virgin Orbit facilities into an engine development complex

Rocket Lab has transformed Virgin Orbit’s massive headquarters and manufacturing facility into a new engine development center, at just a fraction of the price that it would’ve cost to purchase new.

The company sent out invitations to the official opening of the center earlier this week.

“The 144,000+ square foot advanced manufacturing complex is now home to high-rate production for our industry-leading Rutherford engine, as well as development and production for the new Archimedes engine that will power our Neutron launch vehicle,” the invitation said.

Rocket Lab placed the winning bid of $16.1 million for the 144,000-square-foot complex during Virgin Orbit’s bankruptcy auction in May. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck later told investors in a second-quarter earnings call that the price they paid for the assets “would have represented around $100 million of value versus having to purchase new.”

“The Virgin Orbit acquisition is really a scaling enabler,” he said during that call. “Where Virgin Orbit for us is really, really going to shine is on the backside of the project, where we need to start producing larger volumes of engines and even composite components and such.”

Rocket Lab’s winning bid for the former Virgin Orbit facility included all of the machinery and equipment. The new asset is located less than one mile from Rocket Lab’s headquarters in Long Beach, California.

Rocket Lab currently launches a small rocket, Electron, which is the most-launched American rocket behind SpaceX's Falcon 9. The company announced that it was developing a medium-lift vehicle, called Neutron, in 2021. The new vehicle will be capable of carrying up to 13 tons to orbit and is designed to serve mega-constellation customers and even human spaceflight missions. The rocket's first stage will be powered by 9 Archimedes engines, while the second stage will be outfitted with a single vacuum Archimedes.

The new engine development facility joins an existing suite of Neutron development sites that Rocket Lab operates across the U.S. The company is currently building a 250,000-square-foot Neutron Production complex and launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, to support rapid production of the launch vehicle.