Private American space company RocketLab said that it intends to master the method of safely returning to Earth the spent first stages of its Electron rocket for the possibility of their reuse. If she succeeds in realizing this idea, she will become the second company in the world that will reuse parts of rockets that have already flown into space. At the moment, the only company that makes reusable launches is also the American SpaceX.
Reusable launch of space rockets
The main goal of Rocket Lab is toto increase the number of space launches. Having the opportunity to return the spent steps back to earth, the company will not have to build a new rocket from scratch for each subsequent space launch. Based on this, it also becomes clear that thanks to the reuse of previously used rocket parts, it will be able to reduce the cost of producing new ones.
According to Peter Beck, head of the Rocket Lab, the first stage of the Electron rocket is actually ready for multiple launches.
All engines, turbopumps and the restrelated equipment designed for endless use. If we can save the completed steps and return them to the launch site, then, at least in theory, we can quickly prepare them for new starts, ”says the head of the company.
How will the Rocket Lab plant its rockets?
As the head of the Rocket Lab notes, unlikeSpaceX, which is planting the spent first stages of its rockets on special platforms on the ground, as well as a floating platform using jet engines, his company is going to take a different approach.
Spent Electron Rocket Stagesit is supposed to land in a sea on a special ship, having previously caught them with a helicopter. At the heart of the method, the company is going to use the earth's atmosphere to slow down the stage in dense layers.
After launching a rocket and bringing it to the desired height,undocking of its first and second stage will occur. The second (upper) stage of the rocket containing the payload will continue to climb, and the first will begin to decline back into the atmosphere for further landing. According to Peter Beck, this will be the most difficult part of the task of saving part of the rocket, because at that moment tremendous pressure and very high temperature will be exerted on it as a result of friction against particles of dense layers of the atmosphere.
We begin to return the stage at a speed 8.5 times the speed of sound, and then we need to brake it to 0.01 the speed of sound in just 70 seconds, ”Beck said in an interview with CNBC.
After that, the step should release parachutes andto descend smoothly to the desired height, where a helicopter equipped with a special cable with a grip can catch it. Next, the helicopter will deliver the step to the ship.
A visualization of the process of returning the first stage of the Electron rocket can be seen in the video below.
How SpaceX lands its rockets
The method is partially similar to SpaceX’s approach,which puts the spent stages of its missiles on a floating barge. However, the spent stage of the Rocket Lab's Electron rocket will not land on its own using its engine (as is the case with SpaceX rockets).
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, landing on a floating barge in the ocean
Landing the first stage of the Falcon 9 on the ground
According to Peter Beck, the use of rocketElectron rocket return engines have been considered by the company in the past. However, it turned out that for Rocket Lab this approach is economically disadvantageous. To use the landing method used by SpaceX, the Rocket Lab will have to create a larger rocket. Why? Because when landing due to jet engines it is necessary to use additional rocket fuel.
Rocket Lab's Electron Rocket Launch
Recall that the main activity of the companyRocket Lab - launch of small space satellites, the maximum size of a refrigerator. To do this, she uses a small two-stage rocket Electron with a height of 17 meters, a diameter of 1.2 meters and a mass of 12.5 tons. The weight of the rocket payload is not more than 225 kg. The company estimates the cost of preparing one such rocket for launch at $ 6.5-7 million.
This of course can not be compared with the sameSpacecon Falcon 9 rocket. The mass of the latter is more than 500 tons, height - 70 meters, diameter - 3.7 meters. The rocket is capable of putting up to 22 tons of payload into orbit. And the launch cost starts at $ 60 million. And increases depending on the weight of the payload, as well as the launch option (reusable or not).
See also: SpaceX will regularly launch small satellites at a lower price
During its existence, Rocket Labconducted 6 launches of its Electron rockets. Three of them were commercial. The latter took place on June 29 of this year. Within its framework, the company launched four compact commercial satellites into orbit.
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