Rocket Lab To Try Booster Recovery On Upcoming Electron Launch
Updated November 3 to include OHB Sweden’s role on the satellite.
WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab says it will make a second attempt at restoring an airborne Electron booster during the launch of a Swedish science satellite later this week.
Rocket Lab announced plans for the next Electron launch on Nov. 1, a mission it calls “Catch Me If You Can.” The launch is scheduled for November 4 at 1:15 PM east of the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.
The launch will be the second attempt at helicopter recovery of the first stage of the Electron, which descends under a parachute. In the first attempt may 2, a hook hanging from the helicopter grabbed the parachute, but the pilot released it moments later after noticing what the company called “different load characteristics than what we experienced during testing”. The stage instead splashed down and was recovered by a boat.
“Our first helicopter capture, just a few months ago, proved that we can do what we set out to do with Electron, and we’re eager to get the helicopter out again and extend our reusability of our missiles even further. improving by bringing back a dry phase for the first time,” said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, in a statement about the upcoming launch.
Beck said in the months following the launch that the company had provided additional training on salvaging the helicopter itself, rather than making changes to the missile and its salvage systems. “We have not made any changes to the vehicle or to the recovery systems,” he said in an interview at the end of June. “It just comes down to getting the technology right and just the mission operations that come with it.”
He had hinted for months that another recovery attempt would take place in the near future, including during the company’s September 21 investor day event, when he said the next recovery attempt “would be coming soon.” The November 1 announcement was the first announcement of this launch, including both the payload and recovery plans.
Airborne recovery is a key part of Rocket Lab’s plans to reuse boosters after the company completed a propulsive landing, as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 was not feasible for a small rocket. Catching the booster before it drops will help prevent problems with salt water ingress.
During the investor day presentation, Beck said the work to recover Electron will help the company develop Neutron, its medium-sized reusable launch vehicle that will perform propulsive landings. “There’s no way we could have tackled the Neutron project with so much speed and confidence without doing this,” he said, referring to Electron recovery. “We learned so much about re-entering Electrons and the process of reusability that if we had just gone straight to Neutron as a reusable vehicle without learning all those super hard lessons, it would have been ugly.”
The upcoming launch will carry a single satellite called MATS, or Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy. The satellite, funded by the Swedish National Space Agency and built by OHB Sweden with some components supplied by AAC Clyde Space, will study waves in the upper atmosphere and how they affect weather and climate.
MATS was originally planned to fly as a rideshare on a Soyuz rocket, but the Swedish government canceled those plans in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The spacecraft, weighing about 50 kilograms, will enter a sun-synchronous orbit at dawn and dusk at an altitude of 585 kilometers.
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