Rocket Lab "returns to sender" with Electron's 1st first stage recovery

James Marshall
November 20, 2020

During this 16th launch, Rocket Lab practiced those steps, including the parachute deploy, after launching the Electron from the company's main facility in New Zealand.

On Thursday, Rocket Lab made an attempt to recover its first-stage Electron rocket booster for the first time.

Approximately two and a half minutes after lift-off, at an altitude of around 80 km, Electron's first and second stages separated per standard mission procedure. Once the engines shut down on Electron's first stage, a reaction control system re-oriented the stage 180-degrees to place it on an ideal angle for re-entry, enabling it to survive the incredible heat and pressure known as "The Wall" during its descent back to Earth.

As exciting as the splashdown and recovery were, the chief aim of "Return to Sender" was to get the 30 payloads aloft.

Rocket Lab, a space systems company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has successfully launched its 16th Electron mission and deployed 30 small satellites to orbit - the largest number of satellites deployed by Electron to date on a single mission. 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.

SpaceX was the first company in the world to develop orbit-class commercial rockets with reusable first stages. The mission brings the total number of satellites launched by Rocket Lab to 95.

"It may sustain some damage, it may come back in really good order".

Reusable rockets would be huge for the industry, increasing launch frequency and lowering the cost, she said. Rocket Lab tweeted. "Recovery ops are underway". The spacecraft will investigate a possible link between earthquakes and disturbances in Earth's upper atmosphere, Rocket Lab representatives wrote.

Image Credits Rocket Lab
Image Credits Rocket Lab

"Even if it's economically neutral, the fact that we don't have to build more vehicles in the same factory is a really big advantage", Beck said during the November 4 call.

University of Auckland paid for its spot on the spacecraft, but the launch would not cost it, she said. Rocket Lab's rideshare mechanism meant lots of satellites hitched a ride together, with the price dependent on the size and the complexity of the mission.

Unseenlabs also had two small spacecraft on "Return to Sender", the second and third members of the French company's planned 20-satellite maritime-surveillance constellation.

Some customers paid millions of dollars, some paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bailey said. The satellites ranged from surveillance to communication probes, and also included a vehicle tasked with demonstrating a new tether technology aimed at ridding space of unnecessary and unsafe debris.

In addition, it marks a first trip to space for "Gnome Chompski", a 3D-printed gnome printed by Weta Workshop for Valve software founder Gabe Newell, an American billionaire who has resided in New Zealand since the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Newell was visiting New Zealand when the coronavirus pandemic closed the country's borders in March, and with a group of friends chose to stay. Named Gnome Chompski, the statue is modeled after a prop from the Half-Life video game series and served as a fun way to simulate mass during the flight.

Rocket Lab's Return to Sender mission payload. For this mission, Newell vowed to donate $1 to the Starship Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in New Zealand for every person who tuned into Rocket Lab's launch livestream.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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