In November, the New Zealand Rocket Lab successfully tested a first stage recovery parachute system. The mission was one of three planned tests that the company said would put it on the path to reusing its Electron rocket. Next month he lead the second of these tests after completing its 20th Electron launch of the year.
The Running Out of Toes mission will see an Electron rocket put two of the constellation’s satellites into orbit. After separating from its counterpart, the craft’s booster stage will begin to return to the planet’s surface. It is at this point that Rocket Lab hopes to validate its previous findings and test a new heat shield designed by the company to protect Electron from temperatures as hot as 4,352 degrees Fahrenheit. The machine will enter the atmospheric engines first. It will first deploy a drug parachute to slow its descent, followed by a circular parachute once it gets closer to the ocean surface. If all goes according to plan, a ship will pick up the vehicle approximately 403 miles off the coast of Rocket Lab Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.
“The Return to Sender mission proved that we can successfully bring Electron back from space. Now it’s a matter of validating the re-entry data a second time and starting to introduce the advanced systems that will allow us to launch, capture and repeat, ”Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.
The company’s eventual turnaround plan for Electron is to use helicopters to catch the rockets in flight. This past April it showed what it would look like, with a test that saw one helicopter drop a dummy rocket 8,000 feet above the ocean for another to catch 3,000 feet below. Meanwhile, her next Neutron rocket will feature a fully reusable first stage that can land on an ocean platform.