Rocket Lab launched its 40th Electron mission on Wednesday, Aug. 23, after switching to a recovery rocket that was fitted with a previously flown engine for the first time. The rocket lifted off from a privately owned spaceport on New Zealand’s North Island with a radar imaging satellite at 7:45 p.m. EDT (11:45 a.m. NZST on the 24th / 2345 UTC).
A recoverable electron rocket carrying the Acadia 1 satellite for Capella Space lifts off from New Zealand’s North Island. Image: Rocket Lab. More than 12 hours after launch, Rocket Lab has not confirmed whether the first stage booster has been successfully retrieved from the ocean. The company confirmed that the booster deployed its parachute and fell in the Pacific Ocean, about 560 km southeast of the launch site.
A webcast of the launch showed a salvage vessel equipped with cranes and platforms to lift the booster out of the sea. After the missile was retrieved, an important task for the salvage crews was to wash away the corrosive salt water.
The unexpected transition to the regenerative amplifier occurred after two start-up scrubs, which were blamed on motor sensor failures. This was the third planned sea recovery of an Electron booster after Rocket Lab abandoned plans to intercept returning boosters by helicopter.
One of the rocket’s nine 3D-printed Rutherford engines previously flew on the first stage of the There-and-Back mission in 2022. in may Rocket Lab said the engine performed flawlessly.
“The data is there, the reused engine and stage work great,” said Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab.
The first stage Electron booster drops off the second stage to begin the recovery phase of its mission. Image: Rocket Lab. A single Ruthford vacuum engine on the second stage and a shock stage with a Curie engine completed the Electron mission, deploying Earth observation company Capella Space’s Acadia 1 satellite after about 58 minutes of flight. Acadia 1 is the first of four new radar imaging satellites. The mission is named We Love the Nightlife because of the satellite’s ability to observe day and night.
Capella Space said these next-generation Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Earth imaging satellites are designed to “expand Capella’s existing constellation to provide the highest quality imagery, best ground range resolution and fastest order delivery speed of any commercial SAR provider.” .
Artist’s impression of Capella’s radar imaging satellite Acadia. Image: Capella. Another Electron rocket was ready to launch Acadia 1 on July 30, but there was an interruption after engine ignition just moments before liftoff. Second test on August 6. was canceled about 15 minutes before the launch window opened.
During the first launch attempt, Beck suspected that the first abort was caused by a “sophisticated pressure sensor”. After the second scrub, he reported, “Still not happy with one of the engine sensors.”
Low pressure in one engine’s igniter forced Rocket Lab to return the Electron vehicle to the hangar for further investigation.
“In order to keep the mission on schedule and accelerate Rocket Lab’s reusability efforts, the hull with the integrated Capella payload has been replaced with another potential recovery-configured first stage on the Rocket Lab production line,” the company said in a press release. .
The work certifies the engine for repeated flights, including several mission-long hot fires.
“The engines we bring back from previous recovery missions are performing well during retraining and acceptance tests, so we’re excited to send one on a second trip to space as one of the final steps before a full first stage.” Beck said in a Rocket Lab statement.