Rocket Lab shows the stage returned from space

Rocket Lab has published several photos showing the first stage of the Electron rocket returning to Earth. It splashed into the ocean, after which it was extracted from the water and delivered to the company’s base.

Reuse of the Electron first stage

In 2019, Rocket Lab announced its intention to reuse the first stages of its rockets. Initially, the company planned to achieve this goal with the help of air pickup technology. The idea was that the stage descending by parachute would be picked up by a helicopter and then returned to land. Thus, the company’s specialists would be able to exclude its contact with seawater, which could have a harmful effect on the components of rocket technology.

Rehearsal of the operation to catch the first stage of the Electron rocket in the air. Source: Rocket Lab

However, all attempts to catch the stages ended up in the fact that they fell into the water anyway. At the same time, the specialists who studied them come to the conclusion that, in general, they tolerate this procedure well. After that, Rocket Lab decided to conduct an experiment and test how the first Electron stage would survive a parachute landing in the ocean.

The stage extracted from the ocean

The experiment with the landing stage was conducted on March 24, 2023, as part of the mission The Beat Goes On. Its goal was to launch a pair of BlackSky satellites into orbit. The first stage of Electron successfully worked out its section, separated from the rocket and landed in the Pacific Ocean. After that, the Rocket Lab search ship picked it up and delivered it to the company’s factory.

Extraction of the first stage of the Electron rocket from the ocean. Source: Rocket Lab

Currently, Rocket Lab specialists are studying the stage that has returned from space. According to a preliminary assessment, the Rutherford engines installed on it (the most valuable component of the unit) are in excellent condition. The pictures published by the company do not show traces of any obvious damage to the stage.

The first stage of the Electron rocket extracted from the ocean. Source: Rocket Lab

According to a statement from Rocket Lab, engineers will continue checking the stage to assess the cost of the work required to prepare it for a new flight. If this amount turns out to be acceptable to the company, it will completely abandon attempts to return it using a helicopter.

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