Rocket Lab has just taken another step towards reusing launch vehicles.
This week, Rocket Lab fired the Rutherford engine for the first time from one of its Electron space boosters. The test launch marks a major milestone in the company’s efforts to build launch vehicles that can repeatedly travel to and from space, as the first stages of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 already do.
Early data from the 200-second test fire shows the engine “performed to the same standard as Rutherford’s newly built engine,” Rocket Lab said. (will open in a new tab) in a press release on Thursday (September 1).
Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photo)
Elektron is designed to deliver small satellites into orbit. The 59-foot (18 m) rocket is powered by nine Rutherford engines in the first stage and one Rutherford engine in the upper stage, and a smaller Curie engine in an optional third or “launcher” stage.
Rocket Lab is working on making the Electron first stages reusable. The ultimate goal is to catch the falling launch vehicles with a helicopter shortly after liftoff – this was achieved during a mission in May this year. The helicopter soon dropped the booster into the Pacific Ocean, but Rocket Lab picked it up on a boat and hauled it back to shore.
And this is the booster that donated the Rutherford engine for testing this week.
“If we can achieve this high level of performance with engine components salvaged from the ocean, then I’m optimistic about what we can do the next time helicopters put dry engines back under the helicopter,” Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Beck. said in a press release on Thursday.
Rocket Lab is also working on a next-generation rocket called Neutron for larger payloads such as broadband satellites built for internet mega constellations. According to Beck’s past comments, a “full update” on Neutron is expected on September 21st.
Rocket Lab is also pushing further into space, recently launching NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat into lunar orbit. A private mission to Venus next year is in development for another Electron.
The company’s last launch, almost a month ago, put an American military satellite into orbit on August 2. four.
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