Space

Rocket Lab nails its first ever booster recovery attempt

Rocket Lab nails its first eve...
Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the way back to Earth
Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the way back to Earth
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Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the way back to Earth
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Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the way back to Earth
Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the pad ahead of today's Return to Sender mission
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Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the pad ahead of today's Return to Sender mission

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.

Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the pad ahead of today's Return to Sender mission
Rocket Lab's Electron booster on the pad ahead of today's Return to Sender mission

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.

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.

Rocket Lab - Return To Sender Launch 11/20/2020

Source: Rocket Lab (Twitter)

3 comments
Kpar
SpaceX, Blue Origin, and now Rocket Labs.

Sounds a lot like Ford vs. Chevy vs. Chrysler all over again...
Techrex
A 'MacGyver' on the spot invention here. What if, instead of trying to catch the booster section with a helicopter, we use 1000 FLYING DRONES instead? They can make flying drone move in the sky with amazing coordination and precision now, even to the point, where they can duplicate big fireworks visual displays in the sky. So, what if we have each of these drones grab onto a section of a VERY BIG net, and maneuver it exactly where, they have to catch the falling prize, like firemen holding a basket to catch someone jumping from high up to escape a burning building? The COLLECTIVE flying payload lift of all of these drones, should be adequate to do this,and return the booster stage to a nearby transport vessel in the sea.
Username
Misleading headline. It didn't nail anything. They will nail their first recovery when they catch one and reuse it. All they did here is test their parachute.