Space News
space history and artifacts articles

Messages
space history discussion forums

Sightings
worldwide astronaut appearances

Resources
selected space history documents

Forum:Commercial Space - Military Space
Topic:Rocket Lab reveals reusable Electron plans
Want to register?
Who Can Post? Any registered users may post a reply.
About Registration You must be registered in order to post a topic or reply in this forum.
Your UserName:
Your Password:   Forget your password?
Your Reply:


*HTML is ON
*UBB Code is ON

Smilies Legend

Options Disable Smilies in This Post.
Show Signature: include your profile signature. Only registered users may have signatures.
*If HTML and/or UBB Code are enabled, this means you can use HTML and/or UBB Code in your message.

If you have previously registered, but forgotten your password, click here.

Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab Successfully Completes Electron Mid-Air Recovery Test

Rocket Lab, a space systems company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has successfully completed a mid-air recovery test – a maneuver that involves snagging an Electron test stage from the sky with a helicopter. The successful test is a major step forward in Rocket Lab's plans to reuse the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle for multiple missions. The test took place in early March, before 'Safer at Home' orders were issued and before New Zealand entered Alert Level 4 in response to the COVID-19 situation.

The test was conducted by dropping an Electron first stage test article from a helicopter over open ocean in New Zealand. A parachute was then deployed from the stage, before a second helicopter closed in on the descending stage and captured it mid-air at around 5,000 ft, using a specially designed grappling hook to snag the parachute's drogue line. After capturing the stage on the first attempt, the helicopter safely carried the suspended stage back to land.

The successful test is the latest in a series of milestones for Rocket Lab as the company works towards a reusable first stage. On the company's two most recent missions, launched in December 2019 and January 2020, Rocket Lab successfully completed guided the re-entries of Electron's first stage. Both stages on those missions carried new hardware and systems to enable recovery testing, including guidance and navigation hardware, S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather data during the stage's atmospheric re-entry. One stage was also equipped with a reaction control system that oriented the first stage 180-degrees for its descent, keeping it dynamically stable for the re-entry. The stage slowed from more than 7,000 km per hour to less than 900 km by the time it reached sea-level, maintaining the correct angle of attack for the full descent.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck, says the successful mid-air recovery test is a major step towards increasing launch frequency by eliminating the need to build a new first stage for every mission.

"Congratulations to the recovery team here at Rocket Lab on a flawless mid-air recovery test. Electron has already unlocked access to space for small satellites, but every step closer to reusability is a step closer to even more frequent launch opportunities for our customers. We're looking forward to pushing the technology even further this year and bringing a flown stage back to the factory."

The next phase of recovery testing will see Rocket Lab attempt to recover a full Electron first stage after launch from the ocean downrange of Launch Complex 1 and have it shipped back to Rocket Lab's Production Complex for refurbishment. The stage will not be captured mid-air by helicopter for this test, but will be equipped with a parachute to slow its descent before a soft landing in the ocean where it will be collected by a ship. This mission is currently planned for late-2020.

Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab to Attempt First Stage Recovery on Next Mission

For the first time, Rocket Lab will attempt to bring the first stage of an Electron launch vehicle back to Earth under a parachute after launch

Rocket Lab has today (Nov. 5) revealed that it will attempt to recover the first stage of its Electron rocket during its next mission, the "Return to Sender" launch, scheduled for lift-off in mid-November. The test will see Rocket Lab attempt to bring Electron's first stage back to Earth under a parachute system for a controlled water landing before collection by a recovery vessel.

The mission will be the first time Rocket Lab has attempted to recover a stage after launch and is a major milestone in Rocket Lab's pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to support an increased launch cadence for small satellite missions.

The "Return to Sender" mission, which will be Rocket Lab's 16th Electron launch, will lift-off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula. The 14-day launch window is scheduled to open on November 16 UTC (November 15 PT / ET) with lift-off to take place between 01:44 – 04:34 UTC (17:44 – 20:34 PT / 20:44 – 23:34 ET). The mission will see Electron deploy 30 payloads for a range of small satellite customers to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit, with the recovery attempt a secondary objective of the launch.

"Recovering the first stage of a small launch vehicle is uncharted territory. What we're trying to achieve with Electron is an incredibly difficult and complex challenge, but one we're willing to pursue to further boost launch cadence and deliver even more frequent launch opportunities to small satellite operators," says Peter Beck, Rocket Lab's founder and CEO. "Bringing a whole first stage back intact is the ultimate goal, but success for this mission is really about gaining more data, particularly on the drogue and parachute deployment system. Regardless of the condition the stage comes back in, we'll learn a great deal from this test and use it to iterate forward for the next attempt."

Electron's first stage will undertake the following complex maneuvers on its journey back to Earth:

  • Approximately two and a half minutes after lift-off, at an altitude of around 80 km, Electron's first and second stages will separate per standard mission procedure. Electron's second stage will continue into orbit, where the Kick Stage will separate and deploy the satellites.

  • With the engines now shut down on Electron's first stage, a reaction control system will re-orient the stage 180-degrees to place it on an ideal angle for re-entry, designed to enable it to survive the incredible heat and pressure known as "the wall" during its descent back to Earth.

  • After decelerating to
  • In the final kilometres of descent, a large main parachute will be deployed to further slow the stage and enable a controlled splashdown.

  • A Rocket Lab vessel will rendezvous with the stage after splashdown and retrieve it for transport back to Rocket Lab's Production Complex for inspection.

Electron's first stage is equipped with guidance and navigation hardware, a reaction control system, S-band telemetry, and onboard flight computer systems to support recovery. These standalone systems are dedicated exclusively to recovery and are entirely removed from the systems that carry out the primary mission functions of launch and payload deployment.

Work on Rocket Lab's recovery program began in early 2019 and the "Return to Sender" recovery attempt follows a series of successful tests of recovery and hardware systems over the past 18 months. These include a successful mid-air recovery capture of a mock rocket stage by a helicopter; successful drogue and main parachute deployment tests in subsequent mock stage exercises dropped at altitude; and successfully guided re-entries of the Electron's first stage across two real missions in December 2019 and January 2020 respectively.

Following the outcome of this attempt, the final phase of Rocket Lab's recovery program will be to capture Electron's first stage mid-air by helicopter before the stage is returned to Rocket Lab production complexes for refurbishment and relaunch. If Rocket Lab's recovery program is successful, Electron would become the first and only reusable orbital-class small launch system in operation.

Pete SarmientoRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab Launches 16th Mission, Completes Booster Recovery

Rocket Lab has successfully launched its 16th Electron mission and deployed 30 small satellites to orbit – the largest number of satellites deployed by Electron to date on a single mission.

The "Return to Sender" mission also saw Rocket Lab complete a successful splashdown and recovery of the first stage of an Electron launch vehicle for the first time, bringing the stage back to Earth under a parachute after launch. The recovery of a stage is a major milestone in Rocket Lab's pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to increase launch frequency and reduce launch costs for small satellites.

Approximately two and a half minutes after lift-off, at an altitude of around 80 km, Electron's first and second stages separated per standard mission procedure. Once the engines shut down on Electron's first stage, a reaction control system re-oriented the stage 180-degrees to place it on an ideal angle for re-entry, enabling it to survive the incredible heat and pressure known as "The Wall" during its descent back to Earth.

A drogue parachute was deployed to increase drag and to stabilize the first stage as it descended, before a large main parachute was deployed in the final kilometers of descent. The stage splashed down as planned. Rocket Lab's recovery team transported the stage back to Rocket Lab's production complex, where engineers will inspect the stage to gather data that will inform future recovery missions.

"What the team achieved today in recovering Electron's first stage is no mean feat. It took a monumental effort from many teams across Rocket Lab, and it's exciting to see that work pay off in a major step towards making Electron a reusable rocket," said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck.

The "Return to Sender" mission launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula at 15:20 NZT, 20 November 2020, deploying satellites for TriSept, Swam Technologies, Unseenlabs, and the Auckland Programme for Space Systems at The University of Auckland. The mission brings the total number of satellites launched by Rocket Lab to 95. Among the payloads deployed were satellites designed to test new methods of deorbiting space debris, enable internet from space, and build upon a maritime surveillance constellation.

The mission also saw New Zealand's first student-built payload deployed to orbit, the APSS-1 satellite which is designed to monitor electrical activity in Earth's upper atmosphere to test whether ionospheric disturbances might be linked to earthquakes. Rocket Lab sponsored the project by providing the launch at no cost to the University of Auckland.

Joining the satellites for the ride to orbit was a mass simulator shaped like a garden gnome, launched to space in support of Starship Children's Hospital. Manufactured by award-winning design studio Weta Workshop for Valve's Gabe Newell, Gnome Chompski is a 150 mm, 3D printed titanium gnome created as a nod to an achievement in the game Half-Life 2 that sees players carry a gnome through the came before depositing him in a rocket to be launched to space.

While watching Gnome Chompski get launched to space for real was a spectacle enjoyed by gamers worldwide, Mr. Chompski also served an important R&D function by allowing Rocket Lab to test and qualify novel 3D printing techniques that could be employed for future spacecraft components. Gnome Chompski's time in space is limited though, as he remains attached to Electron's Kick Stage and will de-orbit with it when the stage burns up on re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere. For every person who watched the launch webcast, Mr. Newell donated a dollar to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Starship Children's Hospital.

"It's a privilege to once again provide access to orbit for our returning customers Unseenlabs, Swarm Technologies, and TriSept, and to deploy a satellite for the University of Auckland for the very first time," said Mr Beck. "Thank you to our incredible customers, and to the tireless team behind Electron who delivered mission success once again."

Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab to Recover Electron Rocket, Introduce Helicopter Operations During Next Launch

Rocket Lab USA, Inc. has today (Oct. 19) revealed it will attempt a controlled ocean splashdown and recovery of the first stage of an Electron rocket during the company's next launch in November. The mission will be Rocket Lab's third ocean recovery of an Electron stage; however, it will be the first time a helicopter will be stationed in the recovery zone around 200 nautical miles offshore to track and visually observe a descending stage in preparation for future aerial capture attempts. The helicopter will not attempt a mid-air capture for this mission but will test communications and tracking to refine the concept of operations (CONOPS) for future Electron aerial capture.

The 'Love At First Insight' mission is scheduled to lift-off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand during a 14-day launch window that opens on November 11, 2021 UTC. The mission's primary objective is to deploy two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring company BlackSky, with the secondary objective to splash down and recover Electron's first stage to further validate Rocket Lab's recovery operations and hardware.

"As one of only two companies to recover an orbital-class booster from space, we've proven it's possible to make Electron the world's first orbital-class reusable small launch vehicle," says Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO. "We've perfected Electron's controlled descent, demonstrated flawless parachute deployment, and successfully plucked stages from the ocean. Now we're gearing up for the next stage – preparing to use a helicopter to catch a rocket as it descends to Earth from space. It's ambitious, but with each recovery mission we've iterated and refined the hardware and processes to make the impossible ordinary. I'm excited to take what we learn from this launch and put it into practice with aerial capture missions in future."

Rocket Lab will be tracking the stage's descent from space and as it approaches 19,000 ft (5.7 km) from the ocean surface, a helicopter will be dispatched to conduct reconnaissance of the returning booster. The 'Love At First Insight' mission will also include new recovery hardware developments to Electron including an advanced parachute to be deployed from the first stage at a higher-altitude, allowing for a slower drift back to Earth to test communications and tracking for future aerial recovery. Electron also features improvements to the first stage heat shield which protects its nine Rutherford engines while they endure up to 2200 °C heat and incredible pressure on the descent back to Earth. A team of Rocket Lab engineers and technicians will again be stationed at sea with their purpose-built Ocean

Recovery and Capture Apparatus (ORCA) to retrieve the stage from the ocean and return it to Rocket Lab's production complex in New Zealand for analysis and inspection.

The 'Love At First Insight' mission follows two previous ocean splashdown recovery missions; the 'Return to Sender' mission in November 2020, and the 'Running Out of Toes' mission in May 2021.

A livestream of the launch and real-time updates of recovery operations for 'Love At First Insight' will be available on Rocket Lab's social media channels and website.

'Love At First Insight' launch and recovery operations timeline

  • Approximately two and a half minutes after lift-off, the nine Rutherford engines on Electron’s first stage will shut down and Electron’s first and second stages will separate. Electron’s second stage will continue with the customer’s payload to space, where the Kick Stage will separate and deploy the satellites.

  • Following stage separation, Electron’s first stage will begin its descent. A cold-gas reaction control system will position the stage on an ideal angle to re-enter the atmosphere.

  • While descending, Electron’s first stage is expected to experience intense heat and pressure while travelling up to eight times the speed of sound before significantly decelerating to enable a drogue parachute to be deployed.

  • At approximately seven and a half minutes into the mission, Electron’s drogue parachute will be deployed at around 43,000 ft (13 km) altitude. This drogue parachute both increases the booster’s drag and stabilizes its descent as it approaches the ocean.

  • Earlier and higher than on previous flights, the large main parachute will be deployed less than a minute after the drogue, at an altitude of 19,000 ft (5.7 km) to further slow the stage and enable a controlled splashdown. A key objective of this mission is to increase the drift-time of Electron’s first stage to test communications and tracking for future aerial recovery efforts.

  • Upon receiving the all-clear from the recovery team stationed at sea, a nearby helicopter will be deployed to sight the returning stage and observe its descent to record data that will help refine Electron aerial capture CONOPS.

  • Once in the ocean, Rocket Lab engineers will attempt to retrieve the stage onboard their vessel with their purpose-built Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus (ORCA), a specialised cradle and winch system manufactured to Electron specifications and dimensions, before transporting the stage back to Rocket Lab’s production complex for analysis and inspection.
Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab Launches 107th Satellite To Orbit, Successfully Tests Helicopter Recovery Operations

Rocket Lab, a leading launch and space systems company, has successfully deployed two satellites to orbit for real-time geospatial monitoring company BlackSky. Rocket Lab also successfully introduced helicopter operations to a recovery mission for the first time, using a helicopter to observe and track the Electron rocket's first stage as it descended to Earth under parachute as part of the company's program to make Electron the world's first reusable, orbital-class commercial small rocket.

The 'Love At First Insight' mission, arranged for BlackSky through launch services provider Spaceflight Inc., was Electron's 22nd lift-off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula. Following lift-off at 01:38 UTC, 18 November 2021, Electron successfully delivered the two BlackSky Gen-2 Earth-imaging satellites to a circular 430km orbit, growing BlackSky's constellation of real-time geospatial monitoring spacecraft and bringing the total number of satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 107.

Today's mission also included a controlled ocean splashdown and recovery of Electron's first stage. For the first time, Rocket Lab stationed a helicopter in the recovery zone around 200 nautical miles offshore to track and observe the descending stage in preparation for future aerial capture attempts. The helicopter successfully tracked the returning rocket and completed communications tests in the recovery zone, bringing Rocket Lab a step closer to catching a rocket from the sky, bringing it back to the production complex for refurbishment, and then launching it to space again.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, says: "Today's launch was a masterclass from an incredible team of engineers on how to successfully deliver customers' satellites to space while at the same time demonstrating cutting-edge operations and innovation that pushes the space industry forward on small rocket reusability. This is our third successful proof of concept recovery mission, and further cements Electron as the leading launch vehicle for the small satellite market. We are all excited to move onto the next phase of reusability next year; catching Electron in the air with a helicopter."

The 'Love At First Insight' mission was the latest launch for BlackSky as part of a multi-launch agreement to deploy numerous BlackSky satellites on Electron. Five BlackSky satellites have now been successfully deployed to low Earth orbit so far on missions across 2019 and this year. As part of the deal, another two BlackSky satellites are scheduled for launch on Rocket Lab's next Electron mission named "A Data With Destiny", which is scheduled to launch during a 14-day launch window that opens in December. Today's successfully deployed satellites, along with those previously launched to space by Rocket Lab and the remaining four satellites next in line, represent the largest number of satellites BlackSky has dedicated to a single launch provider to date.

Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab to Attempt First Mid-Air Helicopter Capture of the Electron Rocket During Next Mission

For the first time, Rocket Lab will attempt a mid-air helicopter capture of an Electron rocket as it returns to Earth from space, furthering the company's program to make Electron the first reusable orbital small launch vehicle

Rocket Lab USA, Inc, a leading launch and space systems company, has announced that during its next Electron launch, a commercial rideshare mission currently scheduled in April 2022, the company will attempt a mid-air helicopter capture of the Electron launch vehicle for the first time.

The "There and Back Again" mission, Rocket Lab's 26th Electron launch, will lift off from Pad A at Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula within a 14-day launch window scheduled to commence on April 19, 2022 UTC. Electron will deploy 34 payloads from commercial operators Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Unseenlabs, and Swarm Technologies via global launch services provider Spaceflight Inc. The launch is expected to bring the total number of satellites launched by Electron to 146.

For the first time, Rocket Lab will also attempt a mid-air capture of Electron's first stage as it returns from space after launch, the next major step in the Company's development program to make Electron a reusable rocket. Rocket Lab will be attempting the catch with a customized Sikorsky S-92, a large twin engine helicopter typically used in offshore oil & gas transport and search and rescue operations.

Catching a returning rocket stage mid-air as it returns from space is a highly complex operation that demands extreme precision. Several critical milestones must align perfectly to ensure a successful capture.

Recovery Mission Profile:

  • Approximately an hour prior to lift-off, Rocket Lab's Sikorsky S-92 will move into position in the capture zone, approximately 150 nautical miles off New Zealand's coast, to await launch.

  • At T+2:30 minutes after lift-off, Electron's first and second stages will separate per a standard mission profile. Electron's second stage will continue on to orbit for payload deployment and Electron's first stage will begin its descent back to Earth reaching speeds of almost 8,300 km (5,150 miles) per hour. The stage will reach temperatures of around 2,400 degrees C (4,352 F) during its descent.

  • After deploying a drogue parachute at 13 km (8.3 miles) altitude, the main parachute will be extracted at around 6 km (3.7 miles) altitude to dramatically slow the stage to 10 metres per second, or 36 km (22.3 miles) per hour.

  • As the stage enters the capture zone, Rocket Lab's helicopter will attempt to rendezvous with the returning stage and capture the parachute line via a hook.

  • Once the stage is captured and secured, the helicopter will transport it back to land where Rocket Lab will conduct a thorough analysis of the stage and assess its suitability for reflight.
"We're excited to enter this next phase of the Electron recovery program," said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. "We've conducted many successful helicopter captures with replica stages, carried out extensive parachute tests, and successfully recovered Electron's first stage from the ocean during our 16th, 20th, and 22nd missions. Now it's time to put it all together for the first time and pluck Electron from the skies. Trying to catch a rocket as it falls back to Earth is no easy feat, we're absolutely threading the needle here, but pushing the limits with such complex operations is in our DNA. We expect to learn a tremendous amount from the mission as we work toward the ultimate goal of making Electron the first reusable orbital small sat launcher and providing our customers with even more launch availability."

Rocket Lab has previously conducted three successful ocean recovery missions where Electron returned to Earth under parachute and was recovered from the ocean. Analysis of those missions informed design modifications to Electron, enabling it to withstand the hard re-entry environment, and also helped to developed procedures for an eventual helicopter capture.

Robert PearlmanRocket Lab release
Rocket Lab Catches Rocket Booster Returning from Space with Helicopter

Rocket Lab, a leading launch and space systems company, has successfully launched its 26th Electron mission, deploying 34 satellites to orbit. Rocket Lab has now deployed a total of 146 satellites to orbit with the Electron launch vehicle.

The "There And Back Again" mission also saw Rocket Lab complete a mid-air capture of the Electron booster with a helicopter for the first time. After launching to space, Electron's first stage returned to Earth under a parachute. At 6,500 feet, Rocket Lab's Sikorsky S-92 helicopter rendezvoused with the returning stage and used a hook on a long line to capture the parachute line.

The mid-air capture is a major milestone in Rocket Lab's pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to increase launch frequency and reduce launch costs for small satellites. After the catch, the helicopter pilot detected different load characteristics than previously experienced in testing and offloaded the stage for a successful splashdown. The stage is being loaded onto Rocket Lab's recovery vessel for transport back to the Company's production complex for analysis and assessment for re-flight as planned.

The mid-air capture comes after successful recovery operations from Rocket Lab's 16th, 20th, and 22nd missions, which saw Electron's first stage execute a controlled ocean splashdown before being returned to Rocket Lab's production complex. Like those missions, a reaction control system re-oriented the first stage to an ideal angle for re-entry during the "There And Back Again" mission, enabling the stage to survive the incredible heat and pressure during its descent back to Earth. A drogue parachute was deployed to increase drag and to stabilize the first stage as it descended, before a large main parachute was deployed in the final kilometers of descent. "There And Back Again" is the first time a helicopter catch attempt was introduced to recovery operations and today's mission will inform future helicopter captures.

"Bringing a rocket back from space and catching it with a helicopter is something of a supersonic ballet," said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. "A tremendous number of factors have to align and many systems have to work together flawlessly, so I am incredibly proud of the stellar efforts of our Recovery Team and all of our engineers who made this mission and our first catch a success. From here we'll assess the stage and determine what changes we might want to make to the system and procedures for the next helicopter catch and eventual re-flight."

The "There And Back Again" mission launched from Pad A at Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula at 10:49 am NZST, 3 May 2022, deploying satellites for Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Spaceflight, and Unseenlabs. The mission brings the total number of satellites launched by Rocket Lab to 146. Among the payloads deployed were satellites designed to monitor light pollution, demonstrate space junk removal technologies, improve power restraints in small satellites, validate technology for sustainable satellite systems that can avoid collisions with untrackable space objects, enable internet from space, and build upon a maritime surveillance constellation.

Rocket Lab's next mission is scheduled in May 2022 with more details to be released in the coming days.

Contact Us | The Source for Space History & Artifacts

Copyright 2022 collectSPACE.com All rights reserved.





advertisement