Rocket Lab plans to launch a rocket with a flight-proven engine for the first time today (Aug. 23), and you can watch the historic action live.
An Electron rocket carrying an "Acadia" satellite for the company Capella Space is scheduled to lift off from Rocket Lab's New Zealand site today during a nearly four-hour window that opens at 7:45 p.m. EDT (2345 GMT; 11:45 a.m. on Aug. 24 local New Zealand time).
Today's launch will be Rocket Lab's eighth of 2023 and the company's 40th overall. All of these missions have involved Electron, a 59-foot-tall (18 meters) rocket designed to give small satellites dedicated rides to orbit (and beyond; an Electron launched the CAPSTONE moon mission in June 2022).
Today's mission, called "We Love the Nightlife," is a very special one for Rocket Lab: One of the nine first-stage Rutherford engines on the Electron scheduled to launch today has already been to space, getting there in May 2022. "We Love the Nightlife" will therefore be the first Rocket Lab launch ever to feature a used engine.
The company also plans to recover the Electron's first stage shortly after liftoff today. If all goes according to plan, the booster will splash down softly in the Pacific Ocean under parachutes, and Rocket Lab will fish it out of the sea and haul it back to shore for inspection and analysis.
The company has already recovered boosters on seven previous flights. Such work is part of a broader effort to make the Electron's first stage reusable, like that of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers — a milestone that Rocket Lab intends to notch soon.
"'We Love The Nightlife' is intended to be one of the final tests before the company attempts to refly a booster for the first time in the coming months," Rocket Lab wrote in an update this afternoon.
The name of "We Love the Nightlife" is an apparent reference to the ability of Capella Space's synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites to capture imagery when and where the sun doesn't shine.
"Capella's advanced radar technology penetrates all weather conditions — clouds, fog, smoke, rain — and captures clear imagery day and night, providing unparalleled insight into what is happening anywhere on the globe at any given moment," Rocket Lab wrote in the mission's press kit, which you can find here.
"We Love the Nightlife" will be Rocket Lab's third mission for Capella Space, and the first of four planned launches to deliver Acadia satellites to orbit for the San Francisco-based company.
"The next-generation Acadia satellites include several new features that will enable faster downlink speeds and even higher-quality images for fast, reliable insights that are easily accessible through Capella's fully automated ordering and delivery platform," Rocket Lab wrote in the press kit.
If all goes according to plan on Wednesday, the Acadia spacecraft will be deployed into a circular orbit 398 miles (640 kilometers) above Earth 57.5 minutes after liftoff.
"We Love the Nightlife" was originally scheduled to launch in late July, but Rocket Lab delayed the liftoff to early August due to weather, then to Wednesday due to "a misbehaving engine" on the Electron.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:40 p.m. ET on Aug. 23 with the news that "We Love the Nightlife" involves a used engine and will feature a booster recovery attempt, information that Rocket Lab revealed that same day.