Rocket Lab USA Inc. successfully re-flew one of its Rutherford rocket engines during an orbital launch on Wednesday, a key step in the small satellite-launch company’s efforts to prove its reusable rocket technology.
(Bloomberg) — Rocket Lab USA Inc. successfully re-flew one of its Rutherford rocket engines during an orbital launch on Wednesday, a key step in the small satellite-launch company’s efforts to prove its reusable rocket technology.
It was the first time that a previously flown engine had been used again to help propel one of Rocket Lab’s Electron rockets. The company is striving to reuse portions of its rockets, a feat Elon Musk’s SpaceX has used in an attempt to cut the cost of sending payloads and people to space.
The mission took off at around 7:45 p.m. eastern time from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site and lofted a satellite for a synthetic aperture radar company called Capella Space Corp. The mission is still ongoing, with deployment of the satellite slated for roughly an hour after liftoff.
After launching to orbit, the Electron rocket successfully guided itself through the atmosphere and landed in the ocean under a parachute. The company plans to fish it out of the water.
“Today for the first time in Electron’s history we’re launching with a Rutherford engine that we’ve already flown before,” Likhitha Satrasala, a structural analyst at Rocket Lab, said on a live webcast of the launch.
For the last few years, Rocket Lab has been experimenting with different ways to bring back its vehicles after launching them to orbit. The company originally planned to use a helicopter to pluck the rocket out of the air as it fell to Earth under a parachute — but mid-air capture attempts were unsuccessful.
More recently, Rocket Lab has shifted to retrieving its Electron rocket from the ocean and has completed the task a number of times.
Hours prior to the launch, Rocket Lab announced that Wednesday’s mission would include a previously flown engine and would be an ocean recovery mission — both of which were not planned for this flight. Rocket Lab stood down from the first attempt to launch this mission a couple of weeks ago, due to a bad engine sensor reading.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck attributed the change in plans to rapid production.
“With the production team pumping out a new Electron rocket every three weeks, we have the unique ability to shuffle stages around to maintain a rapid launch cadence,” Beck said in a statement ahead of the flight.
Rocket Lab has yet to fly an Electron rocket body that has touched down in the ocean. And the reused engine on Wednesday’s flight was only one of nine engines needed to propel the rocket to space. But Beck said the engines Rocket Lab has been recovering “are performing exceptionally well” during testing.
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