Rocket Lab Successfully Recovers Its Electron Booster for the First Time

Rocket Lab Successfully Recovers Its Electron Booster for the First Time

Rocket Lab Successfully Recovers Its Electron Booster for the First Time

Rocket Lab just delivered a passel of satellites to orbit and took a big step toward booster reusability.

The 60-foot-tall rocket blasted off from Rocket Lab's picturesque launch complex on New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula at 9:20 p.m. EST (3:20 p.m. Friday local time) and quickly climbed away toward a 310-mile-high polar orbit.

As part of its Return to Sender mission, Rocket Lab's Electron rocket launched off of New Zealand and successfully sent a bunch of small satellites, as well as a small garden gnome, into space.

"Bringing a whole first stage back intact is the ultimate goal, but success for this mission is really about gaining more data, particularly on the drogue and parachute deployment system".

© Provided by CBS News With New Zealand as a backdrop, a camera on the Electron's second stage catches the first stage as it falls away for a parachute descent to the Pacific Ocean.

The "Return to Sender" mission also saw Rocket Lab complete a successful splashdown and recovery of the first stage of an Electron launch vehicle for the first time, bringing the stage back to Earth under a parachute after launch. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted out an initial photo of the Electron underneath a parachute, and hosts during the launch's livestream said that more photos would be shared in the coming days.

SpaceX was the first company in the world to develop orbit-class commercial rockets with reusable first stages. But the main envisioned benefit is a boost in rocket production rates and launch frequencies.

The Waka Āmiorangi Aotearoa APSS-1 would monitor electrical activity in the upper atmosphere, to test whether ionospheric disturbances might be linked to earthquakes.

Rocket Lab hoped to take other student payloads into space, sparking more careers in the industry.

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"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.

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

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 risky debris. Manufactured by award-winning design studio Weta Workshop for Valve's Gabe Newell, Gnome Chompski is a 150 mm, 3D printed titanium gnome created as a nod to an achievement in the game Half-Life 2 that sees players carry a gnome through the came before depositing him in a rocket to be launched to space.

Newell was visiting New Zealand when the coronavirus pandemic closed the country's borders in March, and with a group of friends made a decision to stay.

The 150mm gnome was attached to the Kick Stage, and would burn up upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab provides end-to-end mission services, including complete satellite build and launch solutions, that provide rapid, frequent and reliable access to space.

"For us, going into space is a really serious business. but there's no reason why we can't do something fun".

For every person who watches the launch online, Newell will donate $1 to Starship Children's Hospital paediatric intensive care unit.

Rocket Lab normally had 50,000 to 70,000 viewers on their livestreams, and had seen a huge amount of interest from the gaming community for this mission, she said.

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