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Rocket Lab launches its first recovered engine, heading for full booster reusability – londonbusinessblog.com

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Four months after the spectacular feat that caught a downward rocket stage in mid-air, Rocket Lab has re-ignited one of that booster’s engines — a major step on their roadmap to handling a fully reusable rocket.

The Rutherford engine, one of nine powering the Electron launch vehicles, went on the “There and Back” mission in May, culminating in the live-streamed recording of the booster as it descended under a parachute. They ended up having to drop it in the ocean anyway as it affected the helicopter’s maneuvering, but other than that it worked like a charm.

Of course, any engine that has been through so much needs to be inspected, cleaned and repaired if necessary, especially if they’ve spent some time in the booze.

The lucky engine, in this case, went through the full set of tests that new engines must pass, eventually firing for 200 seconds in a row. According to Rocket Lab, the used engine performed to the same standard as a new one. You can watch the test from start to finish here:

Don’t worry, those aren’t parts of the engine flying around. These things are cryogenically cooled, so that’s usually just water and ice.

“Being able to fly Electron with minimal refurbishment is the ultimate goal, and so the fact that the repaired components of this engine have performed on the test bench with minimal rework is further confirmation that we are on the right track,” Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a press release. “If we can achieve this high level of performance with engine components recovered from the ocean, then I’m optimistic and incredibly excited about what we can do the next time we bring dry engines back under a helicopter.”

Reusable boosters are increasingly seen as the best way to achieve both high cadence and relatively inexpensive launch operation. Building new engines and rockets is hard work – why throw them away when you’re done? But a rocket designed to be used once can be very different from a rocket designed for reuse, and Rocket Lab has adapted its approach to embrace the latter.

The next mission where they will try to catch a falling booster from the first stage will take place before the end of the year, the company said, but there is no set date yet.

I’ve asked Rocket Lab for a few additional details and will update this post if I hear anything.

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