Rocket Lab has successfully launched its Electron rocket today in a mission that includes sending a student-made satellite into space, raising money for Auckland's Starship children's hospital and a company first — an attempt to recover the rocket's first stage section via parachute instead of writing it off, as it has done in the past.
The Return to Sender mission saw an 18-metre Electron rocket — carrying 30 satellites and parachute equipment in its largest payload yet — launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke's Bay.
It is expected to make a controlled water landing before being collected by a recovery vessel, Rocket Lab said today in a press release.
The aerospace company's 16th Electron rocket launch is described a major milestone in the company's pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to support an increased launch cadence for small satellite missions.
"Recovering the first stage of a small launch vehicle is uncharted territory. What we’re trying to achieve with Electron is an incredibly difficult and complex challenge, but one we’re willing to pursue to further boost launch cadence and deliver even more frequent launch opportunities to small satellite operators,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said.
"Bringing a whole first stage back intact is the ultimate goal, but success for this mission is really about gaining more data, particularly on the drogue and parachute deployment system. Regardless of the condition the stage comes back in, we’ll learn a great deal from this test and use it to iterate forward for the next attempt."
The mission also marks the first time a student-made satellite has been launched into space.
In addition, it marks a first trip to space for "Gnome Chompski", a 3D-printed gnome printed by Weta Workshop for Valve software founder Gabe Newell, an American billionaire who has resided in New Zealand since the first Covid-19 lockdown.
Every view of the launch live stream will see $1 donated to Starship Children's Hospital courtesy of Newell.