In Rocket Lab’s next space launch, the company plans to recycle the rocket after takeoff,media reported. The rehearsal will put Rocket Lab into orbit to recover the rocket after the upcoming flight, allowing it to fly again on future missions.
The move is part of An ongoing exploration by Rocket Lab to see if the company can reuse its main rocket, Electron. The company’s ultimate goal is similar to SpaceX, which has recycled and reused the rocket after it flew. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is either aimed at a landing platform or an autonomous unmanned spacecraft at sea after takeoff.
Rocket Lab’s strategy for recycling rockets, however, is very different from SpaceX’s. The company’s electronic rocket, Electron, will make a controlled dive in the Earth’s atmosphere after completing its main mission in space. Rocket Lab calls this process a “wall” because rockets are subjected to intense reheating and accumulation of gas and plasma, which can easily damage hardware. If Electron passes, it will eventually expand a cone parachute and a large master parachute. At some point, Rocket Lab will dive down with a helicopter, grab the parachute, and save the rocket from mid-air before it touches the ocean.
Rocket Lab plans to leave the company’s New Zealand launch site in mid-November to begin the next flight — except for a last-minute helicopter intercept. The goal is to allow electrons to control splashes on the surface of the sea after an umbrella slides. Rocket Lab expects the craft’s speed to drop from eight times the speed of sound to 10 meters per second or 22 miles per hour when splashed. A Rocket Lab ship will then go to the recovery rocket and bring it back to the company’s facilities for inspection.
This should be the most comprehensive test yet of the Rocket Lab recycling program. So far, the company has used the electrons for two controlled dives, each successfully passing through the atmosphere wall intact. But both rockets eventually crashed into the ocean, making it difficult for them to undergo thorough inspection. Rocket Lab has also practiced using a helicopter to catch a falling rocket. The company used a helicopter to drop a virtual Electron over the ocean from above, and then another helicopter dived down to catch it as the rocket fell.
After these steps are complete, Beck says, the company only needs to complete all the steps one by one.
The company plans to make several parachute splashes before the helicopter enters, so engineers can truly understand the state of the plane when it returns from space. Rocket Lab wants to make sure that the electrons return at their best before the spacecraft is taken from the air.