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Rocket Lab launches satellites, recovers booster in 'Return to Sender' mission

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Rocket Lab launches satellites, recovers booster in 'Return to Sender' mission
Rocket Lab, a California-based company, practices recovery of a rocket booster in 2019 near New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab

Nov. 19 (UPI) -- California-based Rocket Lab successfully launched more than two dozen small satellites into space on Thursday night from New Zealand and became just the second company to land an orbital rocket booster in the ocean for reuse.

The Electron rocket lifted off the launch pad early in its launch window, which opened at 8:44 p.m. EST.

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Rocket Lab later said it was in the process of securing the booster in the Pacific Ocean, and began the process of transporting it back to the production complex by ship.

The New Zealand company also said all 30 small satellites had been delivered to "their precise spots on orbit."

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The small launch company joined SpaceX as the only firms to recover the largest part of a rocket for reuse.

The recovery still is largely an experiment because immersion in corrosive seawater is not ideal for rocket reuse, but doing so will help Rocket Lab advance its plan to catch rocket boosters mid-air with a helicopter.

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"It will be the first time Rocket Lab has attempted to recover a stage after launch and is a major milestone in Rocket Lab's pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to support an increased launch cadence for small satellites," the company said in a description for the "Return to Sender" mission.

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The launch includes payload satellites from such companies as Seattle-based gaming giant Valve and Virginia-based launch integration company TriSept Corp., which plans to demonstrate new tether system technology designed to accelerate spacecraft re-entry and reduce orbital debris.

Two satellites on the mission, BRO-2 and BRO-3 from France-based Unseenlabs, will support that company's planned constellation of spacecraft intended to offer improved monitoring of activities at sea, such as illegal fishing and ocean pollution.

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Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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