Rocket Lab, a private American aerospace manufacturer and small satellite launch service, achieved a “huge milestone” Thursday in its efforts to reuse rockets.
After launching a two-stage Electron booster from its New Zealand site, personnel were able to recover the booster from the Pacific Ocean. The company will bring the booster back to shore to test and determine whether it is reusable.
“Welcome back to Earth Electron!” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a tweet.
Rocket Lab has been able to carry out 16 launches to date, transporting 30 satellites to orbit for several different customers like TriSept, Swam Technologies and Unseen Labs.
“Once we get it back into the factory, it’s like a CSI [crime scene investigation], really,” Beck told reporters during a teleconference. “We’ll pull it all apart and really, really dig into how well each of the components in the subassemblies have performed.”
Similar to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the main goal is to reduce material costs of each mission. By reusing the booster, Electron missions are expected to become more cost effective, making it possible to launch with more frequency. However, Rocket Lab’s method of recuperating the boosters is unlike that of SpaceX’s, which utilizes its boosters’ engines to decelerate speed during reentry and add wide legs to land on large concrete pads.
Rocket Lab on the other hand, is trying out a technology CEO calls “aero thermal decelerator.” The method basically entails using the atmosphere to slow down the rocket, a parachute later deploys from the top of the booster to decelerate it so that the company can get it from the sky with a helicopter.
“This is the first time we’re actually going to do everything but catch it under a helicopter,” Beck told reporters before the launch.