Rocket Lab may have experienced mission failures and total payload loss during the company’s 20th planned mission on May 15, but it wasn’t all bad news, the company said in an update Monday.
Importantly, the first stage of the electron rocket, which contains nine Rutherford engines, worked as designed and did not contribute to the flight failure. Rocket Lab further said that the first stage completed a successful landing in the ocean using a parachute and that the company was able to retrieve it and bring it back to its production complex.
Rocket Lab was also testing a redesigned heat shield on this mission made from stainless steel, rather than aluminum, and that seemed to work well too. Testing these elements of the reuse system was a secondary goal here, as the primary goal is always to deliver the payload of paying customers, but ultimately, reuse could be absolutely crucial to the company’s long-term business. .
“The new heat shield that debuted on this flight protected the stage from the intense heat and forces experienced upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, and the program made another breakthrough toward reusing the rocket,” the company said Monday.
This is great news for the Rocket Lab reuse program, as the first stage and engines can be examined and evaluated for further reflow testing on future missions. The company still intends to conduct its third recovery mission later this year. Rocket Lab said it led the flight review of the May 15 mission failure with support from the Federal Aviation Administration and anticipates the full review will be completed in the coming weeks.