Rocket Lab had another productive fishing trip.
One of the company’s two-stage Electron rockets successfully launched two commercial Earth observation satellites for orbit on Wednesday (November 17) from the Rocket Lab site in New Zealand, on the North Island’s Mahia Peninsula. .
During that mission, the first stage of the thruster returned to Earth for a controlled parachute-assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred miles off the coast of New Zealand. A recovery boat moved quickly to transport the space hardware out of the sea and back to the mainland, as photos of the operation show.
Related: Rocket Lab and Its Electron Amplifier (Photos)
(Image credit: Rocket Lab via Twitter)
“Welcome home, Electron,” Rocket Lab said via Twitter on Thursday (November 18), in a post that featured two images of the booster secured to the recovery ship.
Rocket Lab is working to make the first stage of the 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron rocket reusable, to increase flight rates and reduce costs for the company and its customers. The company has now recovered three electron boosters during orbital missions, both to practice the required operations and to study how the hardware is maintained during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Rocket Lab’s ultimate plan calls for a helicopter to lift the early stages of falling electrons out of the sky, and Wednesday’s recovery took a big step in that direction. For the first time, the company placed a helicopter in the recovery zone to track the thruster as it descended and conduct communications tests.
“This is our third successful proof-of-concept recovery mission and further solidifies Electron as the leading launch vehicle for the small satellite market,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck in a subsequent statement. at launch. “We are all excited to move to the next phase of reuse next year – capturing Electron in the air with a helicopter.”
Wednesday’s launch was the twenty-second overall for Electron and the fifth for the year. The two satellites the rocket launched into orbit are part of the BlackSky company’s Earth observation constellation. Rocket Lab will launch a total of four more BlackSky satellites in two missions in the near future.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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