Rocket Lab Sets Their Sights On Rapid Reusability

Not so very long ago, orbital rockets simply didn’t get reused. After their propellants were expended on the journey to orbit, they petered out and fell back down into the ocean where they were obliterated on impact. Rockets were disposable because, as far as anyone could tell, building another one was cheaper and easier than trying to reuse them. The Space Shuttle had proved that reuse of a spacecraft and its booster was possible, but the promised benefits of reduced cost and higher launch cadence never materialized. If anything, the Space Shuttle was often considered proof that reusability made more sense on paper than it did in the real-world.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck with Electron rocket

But that was before SpaceX started routinely landing and reflying the first stage of their Falcon 9 booster. Nobody outside the company really knows how much money is being saved by reuse, but there’s no denying the turn-around time from landing to reflight is getting progressively shorter. Moreover, by performing up to three flights on the same booster, SpaceX is demonstrating a launch cadence that is simply unmatched in the industry.

So it should come as no surprise to find that other launch providers are feeling the pressure to develop their own reusability programs. The latest to announce their intent to recover and eventually refly their vehicle is Rocket Lab, despite CEO Peter Beck’s admission that he was originally against the idea. He’s certainly changed his tune. With data collected over the last several flights the company now believes they have a reusability plan that’s compatible with the unique limitations of their diminutive Electron launch vehicle.

According to Beck, the goal isn’t necessarily to save money. During his presentation at the Small Satellite Conference in Utah, he explained that what they’re really going after is an increase in flight frequency. Right now they can build and fly an Electron every month, and while they eventually hope to produce a rocket a week, even a single reuse per core would have a huge impact on their annual launch capability:

If we can get these systems up on orbit quickly and reliably and frequently, we can innovate a lot more and create a lot more opportunities. So launch frequency is really the main driver for why Electron is going reusable. In time, hopefully we can obviously reduce prices as well. But the fundamental reason we’re doing this is launch frequency. Even if I can get the stage back once, I’ve effectively doubled my production ratio.

But, there’s a catch. Electron is too small to support the addition of landing legs and doesn’t have the excess propellants to use its engines during descent. Put simply, the tiny rocket is incapable of landing itself. So Rocket Lab believes the only way to recover the Electron is by snatching it out of the air before it gets to the ground.

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CNC Tellurion Lets You See The Earth And Moon Dance

Kids – they’re such a treasure. One minute you’re having a nice chat, the next minutes they’re testing your knowledge of the natural world with a question like, “Why can we see the Moon during the day?” And before you know it, you’re building a CNC Earth-Moon orbital model.

We’ve got to applaudĀ [sniderj]’s commitment to answering his grandson’s innocent question. What could perhaps have been demonstrated adequately with a couple of balls and a flashlight instead became an intricate tellurion that can be easily driven to show the relative position of the Earth and Moon at any date; kudos for anticipating the inevitable, “Where was the moon when I was born, Grampa?” question. The mechanism is based on the guts of a defunct 3D-printer, with the X-, Y-, and Z-axis steppers now controlling the Earth’s rotation and tilt and the Moon’s orbit respectively, with the former extruder drive controlling the tilt of the Moon’s orbital plane. A complex planetary gear train with herringbone gears, as well as a crossed-shaft helical gear set, were 3D-printed from PLA. The Earth model is a simple globe and the Moon is a ping-pong ball; [sniderj] is thinking about replacing the Moon with a 3D-printed bump-map model, a move which we strongly endorse. The video below shows the tellurion going through a couple of hundred years of the saros at warp speed.

There’s just something about machines that show the music of the spheres, whether they be ancient or more modern. And this one would be a great entry into our 3D-Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams contest too.

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Back To Basics: What’s The Deal With Magnets?

I consider myself a fairly sharp guy. I’ve made a living off of being a scientist for over 20 years now, and I have at least a passing knowledge of most scientific fields outside my area. But I feel like I should be able to do something other than babble incoherently when asked about magnets. They baffle me – there, I said it. So what do I do about it? Write a Hackaday post, naturally – chances are I’m not the only one with cryptomagnetonescience, even if I just made that term up. Maybe if we walk through the basics together, it’ll do us both some good understanding this fundamental and mysterious force of nature.

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