Rocket Lab, currently known as the “mini” competitor of SpaceX, announced yesterday that the company is considering reusability for its lineup of Electron rockets. Not by vertically landing one like the current Falcon 9 rockets, but using something that’s a bit more traditional.
Rocket Lab, while essentially offering the exact same services as SpaceX, is currently headed towards a different direction for its business — by altering the scale of its standard operations.
Electron rockets are, after all, designed to launch payloads for different enterprises at around 200 kg or so, quite unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which are designed for much, much heavier payloads at 9,500 kg and 63,000 kg respectively.
Cost, as expected, scales much lower for the company primary launch vehicle, that adopting reusability techniques such as propulsive landing is no longer a technical necessity.
This is also a rather smart move to distance itself away from its competitors, which would be unable to economically operate at the significantly smaller business scales Rocket Lab is currently going for.
What exactly does Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck had in mind with his announcement?
Yes, the very thing that people always ask when seeing a Falcon 9 land vertically for the very first time. According to the announcement, Electron rockets may one day, use parachutes when going back to Earth in the future, to be scooped up by a helicopter using a Fulton skyhook-like system.
As it is still conceptual at the moment, the actual mechanics of how it would be implemented is still in the works. However, given the demonstrative success of SpaceX in proving the huge economic feasibility of reusable rockets, it is not hard to see why Rocket Lab would eventually consider the same thing.
In fact, Peter Beck predicts that it could effectively double the company’s productivity ratio if successfully implemented.
Rocket Lab began testing its primary launch vehicle, the Electron rocket, back in 2017. The company has since then officially opened its launch service for academic institutions, businesses, and governments starting mid-2018.