A detailed look at Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket

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Link here. The article provides some details about the first two launches, but its most interesting section discusses the rocket’s Curie kick stage.

“We kind of made a philosophical decision in that we weren’t going to do multiple burns on the second stage because what that does is it puts the second stage in orbit, in high orbit,” said Mr. Beck. “What we’re trying to do here is launch frequently, and the way that we’ve designed our trajectories is that the second stage will always go into a transfer orbit, which is a nice elliptical orbit, where it deorbits very quickly, and then we use the kick stage to do any orbit raising or circularization.”

This design was specifically chosen so that Rocket Lab would not put large second stages into orbit and would fly responsibly by deorbiting Electron’s second stage quickly so as not to contribute significantly to the space debris environment. “We build this infrastructure in orbit in a sustainable way, and leaving second stages in high orbits is not really conducive to that. So what it means is … we’re just putting a little Curie module up into orbit, and we also have deorbit capability on that, too.”

Moreover, the Curie kick-stage was a direct result of Rocket Lab talking to and listening to their customer base – who wanted to make sure that on ride share missions of Electron that all payloads were separate safely and not re-contact other small satellites launched/deployed on that same mission.

No word yet on when they will fly next, though it sounds as if there will be a number of launches this year, at an ever-increasing pace.


One comment

  • Dick Eagleson

    Rocket Lab has, I think, taken a page from the SpaceX playbook by keeping certain nifty things under wraps until the last minute. The Curie kick stage and that mirror-ball satellite are two exemplars.

    Aside from space debris hygiene considerations, the Curie stage makes excellent sense from a rocket equation standpoint. It’s much smaller and lighter than a second stage meaning more of its total impulse can go to customizing final orbits and less to dragging its own mass along for the ride.

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