Rocket Lab USA has secured a $24.35m contract to develop the upper stage of its Neutron launch vehicle.

The contract was awarded by the Launch Enterprise of US Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC).

As agreed, Rocket Lab will develop Neutron’s upper stage system to support national security and defence-related launch capabilities.

The contract was awarded as part of the $75m research and development programme to support the development of upper stage technology for domestic launch systems.

Typically, rockets separate during the journeys. The lower stage launches it to space, while the upper stage puts the payload into orbits.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said: “We’re dedicated to building a next-generation rocket that will transform space access for constellations through to the most critical missions in support of national security, and it’s an honour to be partnering with the US Space Force to develop Neutron.

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“This award is a vote of confidence in Neutron and our ability to deliver low-cost, responsive, dedicated launch for the US Government. We’ve built a trusted launch system with Electron, and we’ll do it again with Neutron to continue providing unfettered access to space with our new heavier-lift vehicle.”

The company added that the contract recognises the launch vehicle’s design to maximise mass-to-orbit capability, orbital insertion accuracy and responsiveness- some key requirements for launch providers under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) programme.

Other existing NSSL launch providers include SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.