Rounding out a successful launch this morning, Rocket Lab has made good on CEO Peter Beck’s promise to do pretty much everything bar catching the returning Electron booster in the company’s recovery efforts.
An awful lot was riding on the mission, which placed a pair of BlackSky satellites into orbit and was dubbed “Love at first Insight.” It was the second launch since a BlackSky payload was lost on May’s “Running Out Of Toes” mission after a second-stage failure. In total, Rocket Lab has launched 22 Electrons and lost three (including the first, a test mission named “It’s a Test”).
Rocket Lab has been iterating its recovery plans; despite the failure of “Running Out Of Toes”, the first stage managed a soft ocean landing by parachute. It is also almost a year since the first ocean landing as part of the “Return To Sender” mission.
The eventual goal is to snag an Electron booster by helicopter as it descends, something ebullient Rocket Lab boss Beck told us was “not that hard” ahead of the launch.
The success of this morning’s efforts means that a recovery attempt is not far off.
As for the launch itself, which was from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 01:38 UTC this morning, the Electron delivered the two Earth-Imaging satellites to a 430km orbit. The first stage then returned to Earth, descending to the ocean by parachute while being tracked by the recovery helicopter.
Unlike the propulsive antics of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the comparatively diminutive Electron will require aerial capture. The plan is then to refurbish the booster and refly it, further bringing down costs for the small-satellite launcher.
The next Electron launch (another BlackSky mission) is set for December, however, that recovery attempt will have to wait until 2022. As Beck observed: “We are all excited to move onto the next phase of reusability next year: catching Electron in the air with a helicopter.” ®