Rocket Lab claims it’s ready to take the next phase in its Electron first-stage recovery and reuse operations by having to capture a booster in mid-flight during a future launch. After three launches in which Electron boosters crashed down in the ocean and then were recovered, Rocket Lab stated on November 23 that it has become ready to undertake the next step and employ a helicopter to grab a rocket descending under a parachute, allowing the firm to reuse that booster on a subsequent launch.
After its most recent flight on November 17, when the Electron stage crash-landed after deploying two of BlackSky satellites and was collected by a ship, Chief Executive Officer Peter Beck told reporters that the business is ready to take the next step. The stage’s descent was monitored by a helicopter, but no attempt was made to recover the booster in mid-flight.
“This was basically the final piece of the puzzle,” he remarked, as he double-checked that all of the systems for retrieving the booster were in place. “It went off without a hitch.”
During reentry, the stage experienced “quite benign conditions,” he said. The heat shield found at the rocket’s base, which had taken “a substantial amount of abuse” on prior launches, had been modified and made it via this reentry in good shape, giving the business confidence that it was time to go on to midair recovery. “The next recovery we’ll make is going to be one in which we’ll actually catch it.”
Other than some point in the very first half of 2022, the business hasn’t set a date for the next recovery attempt. “There will be additional non-recovery missions ahead of that,” he added, adding that the business expects a busy first half of next year, thanks in part to missions that were postponed this year due to a launch failure as well pandemic lockdowns in New Zealand.
“It’s been a particularly trying year,” he admitted. “We’ll need a very, very busy 2022 to clear the backlog and catch up.” Whenever that midair recovery effort occurs, it will not entail a ship, as had been anticipated previously. According to Beck, the corporation will deploy a “much larger” helicopter with additional fuel tanks for a prolonged flying time, allowing it to capture the stage and return to land instead of putting it on a ship. He claims that helicopter operations are less costly than operating a ship.
The Electron received a “block upgrade” on November 17 with a second stage that was nearly half a meter longer compared to the prior version. An upgraded helium pressurization system and a new autonomous flight termination system were also added.