The first stage of the Electron rocket has undergone modifications performed by Rocket Lab to make it more resistant to ocean water; these modifications will be tested with tonight’s flight.
The company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand will serve as the launch site for the “Baby Come Back” mission. The launch window will open at 7:30 PM EST.
The main goal of the mission is to deliver four satellites to NASA, two weather intelligence satellites to Spire Global, and a demonstrator satellite to Telesat, a Canadian satellite communications business.
The four-cubesat Starling NASA mission will examine the satellites’ capacity to independently coordinate their orbital movements, or “swarm,” in order to gather data.
The satellites will also show that they are capable of organizing and carrying out movements without the aid of human mission controllers.
After launch, the first stage will use a parachute to return to Earth and splash down in the Pacific Ocean. The booster will subsequently be removed from the water by Rocket Lab’s recovery boat and brought back to a business production facility for inspection.
First stages had already been recovered from the sea by Rocket Lab, but this time the stage will feature fresh designs that will make several crucial engine and avionics components even more water-resistant.
A smaller parachute and a different technique for raising the stage out of the water are just a couple of the additional alterations to the overall recovery process, according to Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck.
Since late 2018, when it first started delivering payloads into space, the company has been aiming to make Electron’s first stage reusable.
The next year, Rocket Lab declared that it will try two recovery strategies: catching the first stage with a helicopter in midair and ocean splashdown.
The capture with a helicopter has been attempted twice by Rocket Lab, with the first effort ending in a partial success after the helicopter temporarily snagged and then released the booster.
Due to a loss of telemetry data from the stage, the second attempt was completely abandoned; nonetheless, Beck told investors earlier this year that things came out OK.
“Electron survived an ocean recovery in remarkably good condition, and in many cases its components actually pass requalification for flight.”
These outcomes gave Rocket Lab hope that the move away from helicopter capture was complete. Although Rocket Lab has yet to refly a booster, it has plans to reuse a Rutherford engine on a flight later this year.