January 27, 2020 Real Estate Publication

Rocket Lab passes key milestone in SpaceX-like quest to recover and reuse rockets

A long exposure photo shows Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifting off on the company’s 10th mission.

Sam Toms | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab launched seven spacecraft early Friday as the builder of small rockets completed another mission, but one launch came with a significant achievement.

After launching from New Zealand, it successfully returned the Electron rocket’s booster — the lower portion and most expensive part of the rocket — through Earth’s atmosphere. By navigating the booster through reentry, Rocket Lab is one step closer to becoming one of the few in the world able to recover a rocket booster.

It’s a critical development in Rocket Lab’s plan to catch the booster with a helicopter in midair and reuse it for future missions. Additionally, if successful, Rocket Lab would join SpaceX as the only private company to return an orbital-class rocket booster.

“Our first guided stage re-entry was a complete success,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “The stage made it through the harsh re-entry environment intact, which is an outstanding result for a first test of our recovery systems.”

The curve of the Earth seen from a camera on Rocket Lab’s booster as it returns from space.

Rocket Lab

Beck’s company, much like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, wants to recover the boosters so it can launch more often while simultaneously decreasing the material cost of each mission. But Rocket Lab’s approach to recovering its boosters is notably different than SpaceX’s, which uses the boosters’ engines to slow it down during reentry and add wide legs to land on large concrete pads.

Rocket Lab, instead, is testing a technology Beck calls an “aero thermal decelerator” — essentially using the atmosphere to slow down the rocket. After separating from the upper stage of the Electron rocket, which carried the spacecraft into orbit, Rocket Lab’s onboard computer guided the booster through reentry, successfully flipping it around 180 degrees.

The booster of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket separates as its upper stage, with its engine nozzle visible in the foreground, continues on to orbit.

Rocket Lab

The booster remained stable through the intense reentry, Rocket Lab said, slowing to a speed of less than 560 miles per hour. The booster then smashed into the ocean and disintegrated, a move that Rocket Lab planned if the reentry process was successful.

Next up for Rocket Lab’s recovery attempts will be adding parachutes, which will deploy once the booster reenters the atmosphere. The company then plans to use a helicopter to snag the parachute in midair, to carry the booster back to a soft landing on a Rocket Lab boat.

Rocket Lab is the leading private company that builds small rockets — its Electron is about a fifth the size of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The company specializes in launching batches of small spacecraft, which are often about the size of a microwave oven.

Including the seven satellites from customers Alba Orbital and ALE on this 10th mission, Rocket Lab has successfully put 47 small satellites into orbit.

A launch on Electron goes for about $6.5 million to $7 million per rocket. The company has its headquarters in California, with launch facilities in New Zealand and Virginia. It produces one Electron rocket about every 20 days, with launches nearly once a month. But Rocket Lab is looking to accelerate production, aiming to produce a rocket every other week by the end of 2020.

The company is aiming to launch its 11th mission “within the first weeks of 2020.”

Related Posts

Boeing secures more than $12 billion in financing to help weather 737 Max crisis

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, along with one Boeing 787 at top, are parked at Grant County International Airport October 23,...

Oil tumbles into bear market, hits more than 3-month low on fears coronavirus will slow global growth

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

A staff member checks the temperature of a guest entering the casino of the New Orient Landmark hotel in Macau...

Coronavirus fears send stocks lower—what Cramer and other Wall Street pros are watching

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Fears around China’s coronavirus outbreak are in full force. The concern put meaningful pressure on the major averages Monday, sending...

High-speed traders cost regular investors almost $5 billion a year, study says

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Getty Images Traders and hedge funds who use...

The stock market is starting to worry about Bernie Sanders

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on March...

Bath & Body Works’ owner could see sales of hand sanitizer and soap rise as deadly coronavirus spreads

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Roberto Machado Noa | LightRocket | Getty Images Bath & Body Works owner L Brands could be poised to benefit...

US companies suspend China operations, restrict travel as coronavirus outbreak spreads

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

A militia member checks the body temperature of a driver on a vehicle at an expressway toll gate in Wuhan...

Fugitive ex-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn warns foreign CEOs in Japan: ‘You’re playing with your life’

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Three weeks after he escaped from Japan, former Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn is relishing his newfound freedom and...

China coronavirus death toll climbs to 82 with at least 2,900 cases worldwide

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

A novel coronavirus has now taken the lives of at least 82 people in China and sickened at least 2,900...

Coronavirus shutters restaurants in China, sending shares of Luckin, Starbucks lower

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Wary of the coronavirus, crowds of people wear surgical masks. In light of a deadly virus outbreak in China, Hong...

CDC is monitoring 110 possible coronavirus cases across 26 states in US

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

U.S. health officials are currently monitoring 110 people across 26 states for the coronavirus, including the five patients who contracted...

Athletes pay tribute to Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan says: ‘He was like a little brother to me’

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Washington Wizards in the first half at Verizon...

Here’s why the stock market may be overreacting to the coronavirus threat

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

The continued spread of the coronavirus appears to be hitting global markets like a similar outbreak in 2003, but the...

Cramer on sell-off: ‘This is the panic people have been waiting for,’ but don’t buy stocks yet

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Jim Cramer Scott Mlyn | CNBC Investors who were waiting for the market to sink so they could buy stocks...

China coronavirus death toll climbs to 81 with nearly 2,900 cases worldwide

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Disinfection workers wearing masks and spray anti-septic solution at the Incheon International Airport on January 27, 2020 in Incheon, South...