Why the next Electron launch is important
Tomorrow at 8:44pm EST, Rocket Lab is launching their Electron rocket from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The launch is named "Return to Sender" and will be carrying 30 satellites into a 500km orbit around the Earth. One of the payloads on this mission is a Gnome from the game Half-Life, 3D printed from Titanium. This launch is to qualify the 3D printing technique for future components on spacecraft.
The reason this launch of Electron is important is the introduction of reusability to the launch vehicle. After stage separation, about 2.5 minutes after liftoff, the first stage of Electron will coast to Apogee and use its onboard thrusters to guide itself through the Earth's Atmosphere. After deaccerlating to <Mach 2, about 7.5 minutes after liftoff, a drogue chute will be deplyed to further slow the stage down before deploying the main parachute almost 9 minutes into flight. At 13 minutes into flight the first stage will splash down in the water and be recovered and brought back to Rocket Lab's facilities for inspection. This is the first step to their end goal of capturing the booster from the air with a helicopter as it descends under a parafoil.