Today, the California-based company Rocket Lab will attempt its most ambitious launch yet. The company will be launching 30 satellites, a 3D-printed gnome, and attempting its first recovery of a first-stage booster.
The launch has a three-hour window today that begins at 8:44 p.m. EST; it will be available to stream here, on the Rocket Lab website. It will be done using the company’s Electron rocket, standing at 57 feet tall and made specifically for taking small satellites into orbit. Being called “Return to Sender,” the mission will entail carrying 30 satellites from various companies into orbit. But there is also another, more unusual passenger along for the ride on this mission.
A 3D-printed gnome from Half-Life created by the award-winning design studio Weta Workshop for Valve’s Gabe Newell will be onboard the rocket. The purpose of this is to test and qualify a 3D printing technique that could be used for future creating spacecraft components. Newell will also be donating $1 to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Starship Children’s Hospital for every person who watches the launch online tonight.
Another milestone that will be attempted during the Return to Sender mission is a first-stage booster recovery. The plan is to have the booster float down into the ocean, aided by a parachute. After landing safely in the ocean, the booster would be picked up by a boat and taken ashore for inspection. In the future, Rocket Lab hopes to recover the boosters in mid-air via helicopters as opposed to having them land in the ocean.
Rocket Lab being able to reuse first-stage boosters regularly would significantly cut down on both cost and launch turnaround times.
Make sure to follow all of the Return to Sender launch coverage from Space Explored.