Named ‘Return to Sender’, the mission lofted 30 satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit 500 kilometers above the surface of Earth — the most satellites ever flown on an Electron rocket. Of the satellites launched, 24 were small communications satellites called “SpaceBees” from the California-based company Swarm Technologies. The others included a space junk removal test, a maritime observation satellite, and an earthquake investigation satellite — while a small gnome also made its way to space for charity. The launch was especially notable, however, for Rocket Lab’s recovery efforts. Shortly after the launch, the first stage of the rocket descended back to Earth under parachute, falling into the ocean where it was then recovered by a waiting ship several hours later. Rocket Lab’s plan is to catch its smaller rockets with a helicopter as they fall from space under a parachute. At some point, possibly next year, the first helicopter recovery will be attempted.
“First, the company says it wants to perform a few more splashdown tests in the ocean like this one, to check everything is nominal,” reports Forbes. “If all goes well, however, SpaceX quite soon might not be the only private company that’s able to launch, recover, and re-launch its own rockets.”
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