Rocket Lab just did something we’ve never seen before.
rocket lab sent 34 satellites into orbit today (May 2) with its two-stage system Electron launcher, which lifted off from the company’s New Zealand site at 6:49 pm EDT (2249 GMT). Pretty impressive, but it was the action in the down direction that was unprecedented.
After sending the satellites on their way, the Electron’s first stage dropped back down to land under parachute. About 15 minutes after liftoff, as the booster slid into the Pacific Ocean, a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter snuck up and snagged the parachute cord with a hook. the helicopter after transported the propellant to a recovery shipwhich will transport the hardware back to the mainland for inspection and analysis.
“Absolutely amazing stuff there!” Murielle Baker, Senior Communications Advisor for Rocket Lab, said during today’s launch webcast. “We have successfully trapped that electron booster under the parachute!”
Related: Rocket Lab and its electron drive (photos)
I return home, safe and sound. pic.twitter.com/j159KRKQb5May 3, 2022
This dramatic move is part of Rocket Lab’s effort to make Electron’s early stages reusable, an achievement that would reduce costs and increase launch frequency, company representatives said.
Space fans are already familiar with reusable rockets thanks to spacexwhich commonly lands and re-flys the first stages of its Falcon 9 rocket (as well as those of its Falcon Heavy, which has launched only three times to date). falcon 9 The first stages land propellantly, using engine burns to steer toward soft, vertical landings on land or “droneship” platforms at sea.
But the 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron is too small to do that; the first-stage boosters can’t carry enough fuel to leave enough for landing operations, Rocket Lab representatives said. So the company settled on the helicopter’s hookup strategy.
Rocket Lab has been steadily building up to today’s historic catch. The company recovered Electron’s first stages after soft splashdowns in the ocean on three recent missions, and has Caught dropping dummy propellers with a helicopter. during a series of drop tests.
Today’s mission, the 26th overall for Rocket Lab and Electron, was delayed several times as Rocket Lab waited for the weather to clear at the capture zone, which was about 170 miles (275 kilometers) off the coast of New Zealand. . The company has a history of giving its flights funny names, calling this one “There and Back.”
The 34 satellites flown on “There And Back Again,” more than any previous Electron mission, were provided by a variety of clients, including Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Spaceflight Inc. and Unseenlabs. . Rocket Lab wrote in a mission description.
All deployed as planned in a sun-synchronous orbit about 323 miles (520 kilometers) above Earth an hour after liftoff, Rocket Lab representatives said. announced via Twitter tonight. The total number of satellites launched by Electron to date now stands at 146.
Electron won’t be the only caster in the Rocket Lab stable for much longer, if all goes according to plan. The company is developing a larger rocket called Neutron, which is scheduled to fly for the first time in 2024. Neutron is designed to be partially reusable from the start; its first stage will make booster landings similar to those of the Falcon 9, Rocket Lab representatives said.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at midnight ET on May 3 with news of the successful deployment of the satellite and the delivery of Electron’s first stage to a recovery ship.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom or in Facebook.