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Rocket Lab launch on May 15 will attempt a second ocean recovery of 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s next planned launch on May 15th will attempt a repeat of the ocean recovery of their Electron rocket’s 1st stage, as they did after a November 2020 launch.

The goal of such work is to help transition the two-stage Electron from an expendable vehicle, as it was originally designed, to a rocket with a reusable first stage. And inspection of the recovered booster from “Return to Sender” suggests that this vision is no pipe dream. “We are more kind of bullish on this than ever before,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday (May 11). “We reentered on a very aggressive corridor, we had no upgraded heat shield, and we still got [the booster] back in remarkable condition.”

Indeed, some parts of that rocket will fly again; the propellant pressurization system from the “Return to Sender” first stage has been incorporated into the “Running Out of Toes” Electron [launching May 15th], Beck said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are quite remarkable. As far as I know, SpaceX never reused any part of a Falcon 9 first stage that was recovered in the ocean.

Rocket Lab also hopes to reduce any damage further by using new equipment on their ship for getting the stage out of the water. In addition, they have added heat shielding to the stage that should also reduce damage during its fall back to Earth.

Finally, on the next flight or so they will test something they are calling a “decelerator,” designed to slow the stage down during that fall. They are not saying what this decelerator is, which suggests it is some form of new engineering.

If all goes right, they hope to make the first snatch by helicopter of a first stage before it hits the ocean sometime next year.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • mkent

    As far as I know, SpaceX never reused any part of a Falcon 9 first stage that was recovered in the ocean.

    I thought that SpaceX did re-use some vehicle components before they accomplished the first full-stage re-use, but I can’t point to anything right now to back up my perhaps faulty memory.

    But, regardless, I think by focusing so much on re-use you’re missing the big advance of this mission: Rocket Lab is debuting their Sylda-like payload adapter that allows them to stack two non-cooperative payloads under their payload shroud. That’s how they’re able to deploy two Black Sky satellites on a single launch.

    Rocket Lab is starting to be able to do the often overlooked little things that will make them a full-service launch provider. It’s not just about getting dead mass to a minimal orbit. They’re becoming more impressive with every launch.

  • Jeff Wright

    With something small it is easier to hose off. Redstone was one of the simplest rockets to handle. Maybe X ray afterwards. HYPACC is something to look at perhaps.

  • @mkent: an excellent, and as noted, often overlooked, point. As was repeated in business school: ‘Compete on capability (value), not price. Someone can always do it more cheaply.’

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