Rocket Lab’s Electron booster splashes down in the Pacific Ocean

Rocket Lab’s reusability program advanced one more step on Wednesday night when the company recovered the booster from its Electron launcher for the third time.

The successful mission comes after a period of delays due to weather, but all went according to plan, with the “Love at First Insight” mission taking off at 8:39 p.m. EST from the company’s launch facility on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Separation occurred at around 8:41 p.m. EST with the first stage splashing down at around 9:24 p.m. EST, according to a tweet from Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck.

Rocket Lab has successfully recovered the first-stage booster twice in its history — the only other company besides SpaceX to achieve reusability. The first successful recovery took place November 2020 and then again in May 2021, though that latter mission resulted in the destruction of the payload.

Like those flights, this booster made a splashdown via parachute. But the recovery included an additional element: The presence of a helicopter, which hovered near the splashdown area to track and observe the booster as it made its descent. While the helicopter didn’t actually do anything related to the recovery, its presence is significant, as it indicates that Rocket Lab is also a step closer to executing its ultimate reusability plan: using a parachute to slow the velocity of the booster and capturing it midair with a helicopter.

The Electron sent two BlackSky Earth geospatial imaging satellites to low Earth orbit, part of a rapid five-launch agreement on behalf of BlackSky between Rocket Lab and launch services provider Spaceflight Inc. These satellites were originally scheduled to go to LEO in August, part of a three-launch schedule that ended up being delayed due to a small resurgence of the coronavirus in New Zealand and subsequent lockdown measures.

The two BlackSky satellites will join seven others already in orbit, as the geospatial intelligence company aims to grow its constellation to 14 satellites by the end of this year. Earlier this year, two BlackSky satellites were lost due to a significant anomaly that occurred shortly after the Electron’s second stage ignited.

This mission marks Rocket Lab’s 22nd Electron launch and the fifth mission this year.

Rewatch the launch here: