Rocket Lab launched a Japanese radar imaging satellite on the 30th Electron mission

PARIS – Rocket Lab successfully launched a Japanese radar imaging satellite on September 15 as the company prepares for another attempt to recover and reuse the booster.

An electronic rocket lifted off from Pad B at Launch Complex 1 at Rocket Lab in New Zealand at 4:38 p.m. ET. The rocket’s kick stage deployed its payload, the Japanese company Synspective’s StriX-1 satellite, into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 563 kilometers after about an hour.

The satellite is the third Synthetic Aperture (SAR) imaging satellite to be launched for Synspective, all on Electron rockets. StriX-1 is the first “pre-commercial” satellite after two experimental satellites as the company prepares to build a constellation of up to SAR 30 by 2026. The StriX-1 features improvements to its batteries and communications system to enable it to collect more images.

The launch was the seventh Electron mission of the year and the company’s overall 30th mission. StriX-1 was the 150th satellite put into orbit above the electron missions.

Rocket Lab has not attempted to recover the first phase of Electron. The last attempt to do so was at launch in May, when a helicopter briefly hit the stage when it went under a canopy but had to leave it due to unexpected loads on the helicopter. Instead, the booster was retrieved from the ocean after being scattered. During the webcast of the StriX-1 launch, the company said it will make another attempt to recover in mid-air later this year.

Rocket Lab has continued to prepare for the reuse of boosters. The company announced on September 1 that it had test-fired a Rutherford engine from a booster retrieved from the May launch, showing that it worked with only a “minor” revamp after its maiden flight.

“If we can achieve this high level of performance from engine components retrieved from the ocean, I am very optimistic and excited about what we can do when we bring back dry engines with a helicopter next time,” said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket. Lap in a statement.

Still others in the small launch vehicle industry are more skeptical of the reuse benefits of such missiles. Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio, the maker of Vega, said during a session at the World Satellite Action Week September 13.

He argued that reuse made sense primarily for larger launch vehicles with a higher rate of flight. “The smaller the slingshot launcher and the lower the flight rate, the more useless it becomes,” he said. “I don’t see, technically speaking, how reuse would be very comfortable on a 200-kilogram launcher, especially if the flight rate tends to be about four or five launches per year.”

“Reusability is something that will be looked at,” said Jason Millo, president of Firefly Space Transport Services, a subsidiary of Firefly Aerospace. This includes both the company’s Alpha vehicle, which is about to make its second flight, as well as the future medium launch vehicle it will develop with Northrop Grumman.

“We have to look at the commercial feasibility study and see what makes sense, and what is the demand of this customer that we need,” he said.

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said the company has looked into the possibility of reusing the LauncherOne rocket. “There puts and takes there,” he said. There are limitations and logistical complications associated with the possibility of reuse. However, if you get the hardware back and take advantage of it, there is definitely a benefit to that.”

He said the company was looking at manufacturing improvements to cut launch costs rather than relying on reusing components. “The trade-off is largely unclear about whether reuse makes sense or not.”

One part of the total LauncherOne system is reusable, though: a Boeing 747 is used as the missile’s air launcher. “It has flown more than 8,500 times,” Hart said of the company’s plane. “So, from a reusability standpoint, I think it’s in the lead.”