Session

Technical Session 4: Space Access

Location

Utah State University, Logan, UT

Abstract

On November 20th, 2020, Rocket Lab successfully re-entered the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle, successfully demonstrating a soft water landing under parachute. The ‘Return to Sender’ mission was a major milestone in Rocket Lab’s program to make the Electron rocket a reusable launch vehicle for small satellites. The mission followed a robust test program in early 2020 and late 2019 that spanned parachute testing, mid-air helicopter capture tests, and the guided re-entry of two Electron vehicles on prior commercial missions.

This paper discusses the lessons learned from the ground-breaking mission and explores the development of Electron’s reusability systems and processes, with a focus on the innovative systems that enabled Electron to survive the extreme heat of re-entry without propulsive support. The paper also explores recent developments in Rocket Lab’s recovery program, including advances in heat shielding and refined processes for mid-air helicopter recovery to minimize contamination by avoiding salt water immersion. The paper will also examine the potential reusability has to reduce launch costs for small satellites, while increasing launch frequency and availability.

Available for download on Saturday, August 07, 2021

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Aug 11th, 9:00 AM

Return to Sender: Lessons Learned from Rocket Lab’s First Recovery Mission

Utah State University, Logan, UT

On November 20th, 2020, Rocket Lab successfully re-entered the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle, successfully demonstrating a soft water landing under parachute. The ‘Return to Sender’ mission was a major milestone in Rocket Lab’s program to make the Electron rocket a reusable launch vehicle for small satellites. The mission followed a robust test program in early 2020 and late 2019 that spanned parachute testing, mid-air helicopter capture tests, and the guided re-entry of two Electron vehicles on prior commercial missions.

This paper discusses the lessons learned from the ground-breaking mission and explores the development of Electron’s reusability systems and processes, with a focus on the innovative systems that enabled Electron to survive the extreme heat of re-entry without propulsive support. The paper also explores recent developments in Rocket Lab’s recovery program, including advances in heat shielding and refined processes for mid-air helicopter recovery to minimize contamination by avoiding salt water immersion. The paper will also examine the potential reusability has to reduce launch costs for small satellites, while increasing launch frequency and availability.