Rocket Lab successfully propelled two satellites into the orbit and sought to retrieve the mission’s rocket, marking a significant step forward in the company’s ambition to develop a partly reusable launch vehicle. (The company’s two-stage Electron rocket, which was topped with two private Earth-observation satellites, launched from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand location on the North Island’s Mahia Peninsula at 8:38 p.m. EST (0138 GMT) on Wednesday (November 17) as well as 2:38 p.m. New Zealand time zone on November 18).
The Electron’s very first stage was set to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean approximately 18 minutes later, several hundred miles off the coast of New Zealand, where the Rocket Lab recovery boat was ready to fish it out of the water as a helicopter buzzed overhead to pinpoint it from the air.
After the launch, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Officer Peter Beck posted on Twitter, “Splashdown of the stage confirmed.” “It’s in the eyes of the helicopter.” Meanwhile, the Electron’s upper stage kept going, successfully releasing two satellites for the firm BlackSky 55 minutes after blastoff at a height of 430 kilometers (270 miles).
Beck wrote, “Perfect flight by the crew.” The trip on Wednesday night, called “Love At First Insight,” was Electron’s 22nd overall and sixth of the year. To date, all Electron launches have been carried out using brand-new rockets, however, Rocket Lab intends to change that.
The California-based firm has devised a strategy to use a helicopter to pick falling Electron first stages from the sky, check and refurbish the boosters, and then transport them to a launchpad for further flights. According to Rocket Lab executives, such reuse would save money for the company and its consumers while also allowing the company to considerably increase its launch rate.
After successful booster-recovery attempts in November 2020 and May 2021, Rocket Lab has already proven rocket-return technology and obtained data on how well its boosters withstand the extreme circumstances of reentry. “Love At First Insight” was the company’s third booster-recovery attempt.
The endeavor to recover “Love At First Insight” introduced a fresh wrinkle to the mix. In a mission press package, Rocket Lab said it positioned a helicopter inside the recovery zone “to monitor and visually inspect a descending stage in readiness for future aerial capture operations.”
“For this mission, the helicopter will not try a mid-air capture,” they continued, “but it will evaluate communications and tracking to improve the concept of operations (CONOPS) for prospective Electron airborne capture.” The eighth and 9th high-resolution, multispectral “Gen-2” spacecraft for BlackSky’s planned constellation was launched on “Love At First Insight.”