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Rocket Lab just launched seven satellites to orbit, and learned a thing or two about bringing boosters back down to Earth for reuse.
A two-stage Electron rocket lifted off from the company's New Zealand launch site today (Dec. 6) at 3:18 a.m. EST (0818 GMT; 9:18 p.m. local New Zealand time), carrying an artificial-meteor spacecraft and six microsatellites high into the antipodean skies. If everything goes according to plan, all seven craft will be deployed about an hour after liftoff.
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The first stage of this Electron was upgraded, "equipped with new guidance and navigation hardware (including S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems) and a reaction-control system to orient the booster during its atmospheric reentry," Rocket Lab representatives wrote in the mission press kit, which you can find here.
Mission - Role - Data - Iterate - Towards
"This mission will play a key role in helping us gather data and iterate towards our first full recovery mission next year," they added.
That's right: Like SpaceX and Blue Origin, Rocket Lab plans to start reusing boosters. But the 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron is too small to feasibly make vertical, propulsive landings like SpaceX's Falcon 9 or Blue Origin's New Shepard, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck has said. So, the company intends to pluck falling Electron first stages out of the sky with a helicopter.
Goal - Recovery - Reuse - Frequency - Part
The main goal of recovery and reuse is to boost launch frequency, which is part of Rocket Lab's core mission of increasing access to space. The company eventually aims to launch at least once per week with Electron, which can loft about 500 lbs. (227 kilograms) of payload on each roughly $5 million mission.
"It's not about cutting costs at all, to be honest," Beck told...
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Aim and timing is evereything.