Rocket Lab Launches 30 Satellites, First Stage Parachutes into Ocean

An Electron first stage descends under parachute. “My new favourite image of 2020,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rocket Lab launched 30 satellites into orbit from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on Friday. For the first time, the company recovered the Electron rocket’s first stage.

Rocket Lab’s 16th launch featured satellites from the United States, France and New Zealand. The payloads included:

  • TriSept’s two DRAGRACER satellites, which will demonstrate tether systems designed to accelerate spacecraft reentry and reduce orbital debris;
  • Unseenlabs’ BRO-2 and BRO-3 next generation maritime surveillance satellites;
  • Swarm Technologies’ 24 1/4U communications satellites;
  • New Zealand’s first student-built satellite, the APSS-1 satellite for Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute at The University of Auckland; and,
  • Gnome Chompski, a 3D printed mass simulator created by Gabe Newell, founder of Valve Software.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted that the Electron first stage splashed down in the Pacific Ocean under parachute in a major step toward recovering the booster for reuse. The company will later attempt to recover a stage in mid-air using a helicopter.

Rocket Lab equipped the stage with a reaction control system, S-band telemetry, guidance and navigation hardware, and onboard flight computer systems to support descent and recovery.

Rocket Lab has been working on developing the recovery technology and conducting a series of tests since 2019.

“These include a successful mid-air recovery capture of a test rocket stage by a helicopter; successful drogue and main parachute deployment tests in subsequent mock stage exercises dropped at altitude; and successfully guided re-entries of the Electron’s first stage across two real missions in December 2019 and January 2020 respectively,” the company said in a press release.