Rocket Lab launches pre-flown rocket engine for the first time

August 24, 2023
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Rocketlab We Love the Nightlife

Rocket Lab announced it has accelerated its next recovery mission. The ‘We Love the Nightlife’ mission, scheduled for lift off yesterday  flying  on a recovery-configured Electron rocket. For the first time, Rocket Lab  launched a pre-flown Rutherford engine, a significant milestone in the program to evolve Electron into a reusable rocket.

The Electron launched  from Rocket Lab’s private orbital launch site in New Zealand, the mission was Rocket Lab’s 40th Electron launch overall and deployed a spacecraft for American space tech company Capella, a leading provider of commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery.

As a recovery mission, Electron’s first stage returned to Earth under a parachute after launch and splash down in the Pacific Ocean several hundred kilometers down range from Launch Complex 1. Rocket Lab’s marine recovery vessel extracted the stage from the ocean and transported it back to Rocket Lab’s production complex for analysis and testing. Rocket Lab has previously recovered first stages from seven Electron launches and ‘We Love The Nightlife’ is intended to be one of the final tests before the Company attempts to refly a booster for the first time in the coming months.

In addition to recovering the booster, Rocket Lab will flew pre-flown 3D printed Rutherford engine for the first time. The engine previously flew on the first stage of the ‘There and Back Again’ mission, successfully launched in May 2022. The engine has since undergone extensive qualification and acceptance testing to certify it for re-flight, including multiple full mission duration hot fires where the pre-flown engine performed flawlessly.

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“This mission is a big step toward reusable Electron rockets,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “The engines we’re bringing back from previous recovery missions are performing exceptionally well through requalification and acceptance testing, so we’re excited to send one on its second trip to space as one of the final steps before reflying an entire first stage. Once again our team has demonstrated impressive responsiveness by swapping vehicles matter of days, enabling us to get Capella to orbit on schedule, while giving us another opportunity to splash down and recover a new booster. With the production team pumping out a new Electron rocket every three weeks, we have the unique ability to shuffle stages around to maintain a rapid launch cadence.”

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