Rocket Lab is about to recover a space-launched booster for the first time. Watch the company fly its SpaceX-inspired mission live.

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SpaceX is famous for recovering and reusing its colossal Falcon 9 rocket boosters, each time saving more than $10 million. However, the Elon Musk-founded company is about to have some impressive (if smaller) competition in New Zealand.

Rocket Lab on Thursday night plans to try its first-ever recovery of an Electron booster, or first-stage rocket, after it has helped propel a bunch of small satellites into orbit and then fallen back toward Earth. 

Called “Return to Sender,” the mission is scheduled to lift off at 8:46 p.m. ET on Thursday (2:46 p.m. NZT on Friday) from the private company’s launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Rocket Lab plans to broadcast the entire flight — including the rocket-booster recovery — live online, and you can tune in with the YouTube video player, below.

This flight’s booster won’t be used again. Instead, it will parachute into the Pacific Ocean and a boat crew will swing by to pick it up and return the hardware for analysis back at Rocket Lab’s factory. 

However, it’s a crucial test toward completing a booster-recovery program 18 months in the making, says Peter Beck, the company’s CEO and founder.

“The ultimate goal here is to get it back in such a condition that we can put it back on the pad, get it back up, charge the batteries, and go again,” Beck said earlier this month. “If we can achieve that milestone, the economics certainly do change quite significantly.”

Watch live video of Rocket Lab’s launch and recovery attempt

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If all goes according to plan, the booster of the 59-foot-tall Electron rocket should disconnect from the second-stage rocket, which finishes blasting a payload to orbit, around 2 minutes and 36 seconds after lift-off.

From there, the booster will reorient itself so its nine heavy engines point toward the ground — a key step if it is to survive the next five minutes of falling. As the atmosphere starts to thicken, the booster will hit what Beck calls “the wall,” which will dramatically heat and strain the vehicle.

Should the booster survive, a series of parachutes will start deploying out of its top end about seven minutes and 38 seconds into the mission, helping slow down the vehicle to about 22 mph (36 kilometers per hour). 

Splashdown of the booster should occur just under 13 minutes after launch, and Rocket Lab plans to broadcast the moment, according to spokesperson Morgan Bailey.

“We’ll have a camera on the first stage that should capture some of the descent,” Bailey told Business Insider in an email.

However, she warned the company expects to temporarily lose communications with the booster, and thus “won’t get spectacular splashdown views.”

The footage after recovery should prove impressive, though: Engineers packed a 360-degree camera into the stage to record its fiery adventure. “If we recover the booster intact we’re hoping to get more footage from that,” Bailey added.

If the launch is delayed for any reason, Bailey said Rocket Lab has “backup opportunities available through November 30th.” The graphic …read more

Source:: Businessinsider – Tech

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