Rocket Lab has successfully returned the first stage of the Electron rocket from space. The whole process was broadcast live for the first time.
The Electron rocket was launched on January 31 from the spaceport located on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The main purpose of the Four of a Kind mission was to put into orbit four satellites built by Spire on the order of NorthStar. The spacecraft are designed to monitor the situation in near-Earth orbits. They will track the exact position of satellites and large fragments of space debris. Their data will be used to issue alerts about dangerous approaches and collision avoidance.
Electron successfully coped with the task, putting the payload into a given orbit. However, this mission also had an auxiliary purpose in the form of a splashdown of the first stage of the rocket.
Recall that initially Rocket Lab tried to catch the steps descending by parachute using a helicopter to avoid their contact with seawater. But later the company abandoned this scheme, deciding to simply splashdown them into the ocean. Rocket Lab concluded that even after the “bathing”, most of the stage components are still suitable for reuse without the need for restoration work. In addition, the company’s specialists managed to successfully burn the engines that returned from space. This also confirmed the operability of the stage return scheme with its splashdown into the ocean.
As a result, after separation from Electron, the first stage entered the Earth’s atmosphere, released a parachute and successfully landed, shortly after which it was picked up by the Rocket Lab ship. The whole process of landing and searching for it was broadcast live for the first time. In the near future, engineers will assess the condition of the stage, but Rocket Lab is already calling the operation a success.
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