An electron rocket is getting ready to go.
Rocket Lab, the leading company that builds and launches small missiles, used what CEO Peter Beck called a “major milestone” in its missile reuse work on Thursday.
The company recovered the booster for its Electron rocket after it was sprayed down in the Pacific. The recovery came after Rocket Lab’s 16th launch, which put 30 satellites into orbit for a variety of customers including TriSept, Swam Technologies, and Unseenlabs.
“Welcome back to Earth Electron!” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a tweet, with an image showing the booster floating in the ocean next to one of the company’s ships.
Beck’s company, similar to Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants recvia the boosters so that it can start more often – and at the same time reduce the material costs of each mission. But Rocket Lab’s approach to restoring its boosters is significantly different as SpaceX, using the boosters’ motors to slow it down on re-entry and adding wide legs to land on large concrete slabs.
Instead, Rocket Lab is testing a technology Beck calls an “Aero Thermal Decelerator” – essentially using the atmosphere to slow the rocket. After reaching space, the Rocket Lab on-board computer guides the booster through re-entry. Then a parachute is deployed from the top of the booster to slow it down and finally Have the company pluck it from the sky in a helicopter.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything but get caught under a helicopter,” Beck told reporters before takeoff.
The recovery took place in the ocean about 400 kilometers off the coast of New Zealand. Rocket Lab, which also has offices and facilities in the United States, is starting from a private complex on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Rocket Lab will now ship the booster back to the company’s manufacturing facility, where its engineers will inspect the rocket and collect data to help advance the recovery program.
Beck admitted prior to launch that, despite some previous tests, Rocket Lab is “far too early” to “understand what state we’re going to pick up in”.
“The strongest driver [of the recovery program] Missiles don’t have to be rebuilt, so increasing the production rate is the key driver, “said Beck.” The ultimate goal here is to get them back to a state where we can put them back on the pad and hit the gas, back up, charge batteries, and get going. And if we can hit that milestone, the economy will certainly change a lot. “
The benefits and economics of reusing missiles remain controversial in the space industry. SpaceX’s Musk recently condemned competitor United Launch Alliance as “an utter waste of taxpayers’ money.” because its missiles are not reusable. SpaceX has steadily pushed the boundaries of rocket reuse, particularly with the landing of the booster – which makes up the largest and most expensive part.
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