Rocket Lab launches milestone tenth mission, completes major success for reusable rocket program

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American aerospace manufacturer and small satellite launch service provider Rocket Lab said on 6 December that it had successfully launched its tenth “Electron mission” to deploy seven spacecraft to orbit during a launch that “marks a major step towards reusable Electron rockets”.

The mission, named ‘Running Out Of Fingers’ in recognition of Rocket Lab’s tenth launch, lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula at 08:18 UTC on 6 December 2019. The seven satellites on board were for the company’s commercial rideshare customers Alba Orbital and ALE, bringing the total number of small satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 47.

Rocket Lab said it has also successfully completed a guided re-entry of the Electron vehicle’s first stage as part of the company’s plans to make Electron a reusable rocket. The stage made it back to sea-level intact following a guided descent, the company said.

According to company, as part of a block upgrade, the first stage for this mission included guidance and navigation hardware to gather data during its atmospheric re-entry, and was equipped with a “reaction control system” or RCS to orient the booster during its re-entry descent.

The RCS system successfully oriented the first stage 180-degrees for its descent, and it remained dynamically stable for the re-entry, keeping the correct angle of attack. The stage was successfully slowed to less than 900 km per hour by the time it reached sea-level and disintegrated as planned on impact.

Rocket Lab said it would continue to work through the recovery data ahead of a full recovery attempt next year that it hopes will see parachutes deployed from Electron’s first stage to enable a soft water landing.  

“Not only is this tenth mission a significant milestone launch for us, but our first guided stage re-entry was a complete success,” Rocket Lab CEO and founder, Peter Beck, said in a statement. “The stage made it through the harsh re-entry environment intact, which is an outstanding result for a first test of our recovery systems.”

“It’s a huge testament to the relentless drive and commitment of our team that we’ve reached ten flights in just our second year of commercial launches,” he added.

Rocket Lab’s next mission is expected take place within the first weeks of 2020 from its Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand (the company is American-owned and based in California but has a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary).

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