Rocket Lab has announced plans to recover and reuse the first stage of the company’s Electron rocket. The plan calls for the stage to decelerate passively, deploy a parachute and then be caught by a recovery helicopter as it drifts back to Earth.
During a live webcast, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck outlined the company’s future, which included its plans to recover Electron first stages. Beck revealed that due to the fact that as a small rocket, Electron could not decelerate propulsively, he had initially thought it would be impossible to recover the first stage. However, with models created from data gathered on the company’s sixth and seventh flights, passive deceleration appeared to be possible.
“Reusing the stage of a small launch vehicle is a complex challenge, as there’s little mass margin to dedicate to recovery systems,” said Beck. “For a long time we said we wouldn’t pursue reusability for this very reason, but we’ve been able to develop the technology that could make recovery feasible for Electron.
The next step for Rocket Lab is to include an advanced data recorder system nickname “Brutus” on the company’s upcoming Look Ma, No Hands mission. Data collected from Brutus will be used to validate the company’s current reentry models. An upgraded first stage will then be used to launch the company’s 10th flight, which is likely to lift off in October or November. It is unclear what upgrades will be included but Beck assured customers that they would not interface with any of the current flight systems.
The only indication of the company’s path forward following flight 10 was described as “Flight N” during which Rocket Lab would attempt the first recovery. Beck explained that he was reluctant to announce a definitive date for the first recovery as the company still had challenges to overcome on the path to reusability.