Rocket Lab fired up a used engine for the first time after retrieving it from space

The company's developing a rocket reuse method that uses helicopters to pluck boosters out of the sky.
Chris Young
The Rutherford engine during the test.
The Rutherford engine during the test.

Source: Rocket Lab 

Rocket Lab, the company that's building the technology to pluck first-stage rocket boosters out of the sky for reuse, reached a new reusability milestone, a press statement from the company earlier this month confirmed.

For the first time, the company fired up a Rutherford engine from one of its Electron boosters that had been recovered after flying to space.

Rocket Lab reaches new reusability milestone

Rocket Lab said the engine "performed to the same standard of a newly built Rutherford engine" during the 200-second test fire. It also performed "multiple restarts, and produced full thrust of 21kNs within 1000 milliseconds of ignition." The test can be viewed in the video below.

"If we can achieve this high level of performance from engine components recovered from the ocean, then I'm optimistic and incredibly excited about what we can do when we bring back dry engines under a helicopter next time," Rocket Lab founder and CEO Beck said in the company's press release.

The private space firm aims to reuse its first-stage boosters in a similar fashion to SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rockets. Unlike SpaceX's dramatic booster landings, however, Rocket Lab aims to capture its boosters by deploying a parachute on the booster as it descends to Earth and catching it out of the sky using a helicopter with a winch.

The company has successfully tested the technology during a mission in May, but it's yet to deploy it on a regular operational basis. During the May mission, the helicopter dropped the booster into the sea shortly after it was captured, but it was retrieved with a boat shortly afterward. The Rutherford engine from that mission is the one Rocket Lab has fired up in its recent engine test.

The future of Rocket Lab

In a tweet following the Rutherford engine test fire, Rocket Lab wrote that its next recovery mission is "on track to take place before the end of the year. And yes, we will be bringing back the helicopter."

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Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle is designed to launch small satellites and payloads into orbit. The 59-foot-tall (18 meters) rocket fires up nine Rutherford engines from its first stage at launch and one from its upper stage. It also features a smaller Curie engine in an optional third stage.

Rocket Lab is also developing a larger launch vehicle called Neutron. The next-generation rocket will carry larger payloads into space and will feature a unique Hungry Hungry Hippo-inspired payload fairing.

Rocket Lab fired up a used engine for the first time after retrieving it from space
An artist's impression of Rocket Lab's new Neutron fairing.

Source: Rocket Lab 

Rocket Lab may not be as widely-known as SpaceX, but the company is steadily making a case for itself as one of the most promising and ambitious private space organizations out there. The company also recently launched NASA's CAPSTONE cubesat towards lunar orbit to pave the way for its lunar Gateway program, and its also planning a self-funded mission to Venus for next year to search for signs of alien life.

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