November 20, 2020 – Rocket Lab has successfully launched its 16th Electron mission and deployed 30 small satellites to orbit – the largest number of satellites deployed by Electron to date on a single mission. The ‘Return to Sender’ mission also saw Rocket Lab complete a successful splashdown and recovery of the first stage of an Electron launch vehicle for the first time, bringing the stage back to Earth under a parachute after launch. The recovery of a stage is a major milestone in Rocket Lab’s pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to increase launch frequency and reduce launch costs for small satellites. Approximately two and a half minutes after lift-off, at an altitude of around 80 km, Electron’s first and second stages separated per standard mission procedure. Once the engines shut down on Electron’s first stage, a reaction control system re-oriented the stage 180-degrees to place it on an ideal angle for re-entry, enabling it to survive the incredible heat and pressure known as “The Wall” during its descent back to Earth. A drogue parachute was deployed to increase drag and to stabilize the first stage as it descended, before a large main parachute was deployed in the final kilometers of descent. The stage splashed down as planned. Rocket Lab’s recovery team will transport the stage back to Rocket Lab’s production complex, where engineers will inspect the stage to gather data that will inform future recovery missions. The ‘Return to Sender’ mission launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula at 15:20 NZT, 20 November 2020, deploying satellites for TriSept, Swam Technologies, Unseenlabs, and the Auckland Programme for Space Systems at The University of Auckland. The mission brings the total number of satellites launched by Rocket Lab to 95. Among the payloads deployed were satellites designed to test new methods of deorbiting space debris, enable internet from space, and build upon a maritime surveillance constellation. The mission also saw New Zealand’s first student-built payload deployed to orbit, the APSS-1 satellite which is designed to monitor electrical activity in Earth’s upper atmosphere to test whether ionospheric disturbances might be linked to earthquakes. Rocket Lab sponsored the project by providing the launch at no cost to the University of Auckland.