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.
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