Rocket Lab has just taken another step towards reusing boosters.
Rocket Lab ignited a Rutherford engine from one of its space Electron thrusters this week for the very first time. The test firing is an important step in the company’s efforts to create boosters that can go to space and back repeatedly, as the early stages of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 workhorse already do.
Early data from the 200-second firing test shows the engine “performed to the same standards as a newly built Rutherford engine,” Rocket Lab officials said. (opens in a new tab) in a press release on Thursday (September 1).
Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photos)
Electron is designed to allow small satellites to move into orbit. The 59-foot-tall (18-meter) rocket features nine Rutherford engines in its first stage and one Rutherford in its upper stage, as well as a smaller Curie engine in an optional third stage or “kick”.
Rocket Lab is working to make Electron’s first stages reusable. The ultimate goal is to catch falling boosters with a helicopter shortly after takeoff – something he accomplished during a mission in May this year. The helicopter quickly dropped the booster into the Pacific Ocean, but Rocket Lab picked it up with a boat and brought it back to shore.
And it was the recall that donated the Rutherford engine for this week’s test.
“If we can achieve this high level of performance from engine components salvaged from the ocean, then I’m optimistic and incredibly excited about what we can do when we bring dry engines back under a helicopter next time,” said Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. said in Thursday’s press release.
Rocket Lab is also working on a next-generation rocket called Neutron for larger payloads, like broadband satellites designed for internet megaconstellations. A “full update” on Neutron is due September 21, according to Beck’s earlier comments.
Rocket Lab is also moving further into space, having recently launched NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat on a journey to lunar orbit. A private mission to Venus next year is in preparation on another Electron.
The company’s last launch, nearly a month ago, orbited a US military satellite on August 4.
. Rocket Lab launches engine space in a milestone reuse