Rocket Lab will try to recover rocket boosters

Rocket Lab booster recovery
An artist’s conception shows an Electron rocket making a re-entry. (Rocket Lab Illustration)

Taking a page from SpaceX’s playbook, Rocket Lab’s CEO says the company will try to recover the first-stage booster of its Electron rocket to save time and money.

“Electron is going reusable,” CEO Peter Beck announced today at the annual SmallSat conference in Logan, Utah.

But Rocket Lab will take a different route to rocket reusability: Rather than having the booster fire its engines for a retro landing on its feet, the rocket core will be built to withstand the fiery forces of atmospheric re-entry and pop open a parachute to slow itself down. Then it would get plucked from the sky by a helicopter flying out from a ship stationed in the Pacific near Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch complex.

Beck explained that doing reusability the SpaceX way wouldn’t work for Rocket Lab’s “smaller is better” business model. “That takes a small launch vehicle and turns it into a medium launch vehicle,” he said.

The plan for recovering and reusing boosters is a turnabout for Rocket Lab, which has focused on low-cost production of its currently non-reusable, carbon-composite-based Electron rocket and 3-D-printed Rutherford rocket engines.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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