Rocket Lab has successfully launched its ‘Look Ma, No Hands’ mission deploying several payloads for both commercial and military customers. The vehicle also carried a sophisticated data recorder system nicknamed “Brutus”. Rocket Lab hopes that the data collected by Brutus will enable them to take one step closer to reusability.
The ‘Look Ma, No Hands’ mission was launched aboard an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 at the southern tip of Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The rocket lifted off at 12:12 UTC this morning with first stage separation following approximately two and a half minutes later. The vacuum Rutherford engine powering the second stage was then successfully ignited to complete a six-minute planned burn. Second stage separation then occurred with the rocket’s Kick Stage drifting away to begin a 40-minute coast phase.
Following the coast phase, the monopropellant-powered Curie engine of the Kick Stage was ignited for a one-minute burn. Approximately two minutes later, the mission’s payloads were separated from the rocket’s upper stage.
A total of four small satellites were deployed. Two of the payloads were experimental satellites developed by the US Air Force. The other two were Earth-imaging satellites for commercial operators UnseenLabs and BlackSky.
In addition to the payloads that were deployed from the rocket’s Kick Stage, today’s ‘Look Ma, No Hands’ mission also carried the Brutus data recorder. The data recorder was housed within the rocket’s first stage and was used to collect data during the stage’s reentry. This data will now be used to validate models the company has created that may allow for a passive reentry and recovery procedure in the future.
Current recovery models require a reentry burn and one or two subsequent burns to slow the vehicle sufficiently to allow for its recovery. However, the Electron rocket is small and does not have the capacity to carry the additional propellant required for these burns. As a result, a passive reentry system is required that would maximise aerodynamic forces to slow the vehicle.
With the data collected from today’s launch, Rocket Lab’s next goal is to introduce an upgraded Electron first stage for the company’s 10th mission, which is likely to be launched later this year. Following that, the company has given no indication when the first recovery attempt will be made.