Return to Sender
Rocket Lab is now thinking more about what happens to their Electron rockets after the mission is complete. Rather than using each rocket once, they’re working to make them reusable so they can fly lots of missions each. Murielle said, “Our most recent launch called Return To Sender was the very first time we brought an Electron booster back to Earth."
Returning a rocket to Earth is incredibly difficult. There have only been two companies ever that have recovered a rocket from space after launch. One is SpaceX and the second is Rocket Lab.
For the Return To Sender mission, Electron’s first stage was subjected to intense pressure and heat, experiencing temperatures over 2400 °C and reaching speeds of 2350 m/s. Despite all that, the rocket’s booster held up remarkably well – not bad after experiencing the trip to space and back in just 13 minutes.
Rocket Lab brought the booster back to Earth under a parachute after the rocket deployed its satellites during the mission in November 2020. “We'll use what we learned from that mission and apply that to future recovery attempts. So as a test, it was successful and exciting.”
This year Rocket Lab will launch even more recovery missions, with the first one for 2021 expected to be very similar to Return To Sender, including another parachute deployment and splashdown in the ocean.