Rocket Lab nails its first ever booster recovery attempt
Startup Rocket Lab has joined SpaceX and Blue Origin in the world of rocket recovery, today bringing its Electron booster back down to Earth for the first time ever. The company’s recovery of the Electron’s first stage during its landmark “Return to Sender” mission will act as a springboard for even more ambitious recovery techniques in the coming years.
We first caught wind of Rocket Lab’s recovery ambitions last year, when the company began to share details around how it could retrieve the Electron’s first stage after it deposits small satellites into orbit. Much like SpaceX, the company hopes to recover and reuse its rockets rather than let them burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean, though it does differ a little in its approach.
Its first steps involve using control systems to re-orient the rocket after the payloads are deployed, before a small drogue parachute slows its descent and then a large parachute applies the brakes further as it nears the ocean. Following a safe splashdown, a recovery vessel then comes along to collect it from the water. And in today’s Return to Sender mission, which delivered 30 small satellites to orbit, things went exactly to script.
Splashdown of Electron's first stage confirmed! Recovery ops are underway and we'll bring you more soon.— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) November 20, 2020
A key objective of the mission, even if the first stage was lost along the way, was to gather data on the performance of the drogue and parachute system. This information will be useful as the company moves ahead with its recovery program, which involves plans of capturing the Electron booster in mid-air with a helicopter, something it was able to successfully demonstrate using a dummy first stage earlier in the year.
You can watch a full replay of today’s mission below.
Source: Rocket Lab (Twitter)