Space company Rocket Lab is back this week with plans to catch another rocket booster falling from the sky using an elaborate helicopter and parachute system.
While it sounds unbelievable, the US-based company that launched from New Zealand took the first major step towards launching and reusing its Electron rocket boosters in May, when it ‘did.
During this test, Rocket Lab successfully captured the Electron Thruster with a helicopter after launching 34 rideshare payloads into space. The original plan was to transport the thruster to a nearby ship, but the pilot decided to release the thruster into the ocean for safety reasons. According to the company, the rocket was later picked up by boat and was in good condition.
On Friday, Rocket Lab will once again attempt the complicated task of plucking a falling booster from the sky using a helicopter and transporting the booster to dry land, hoping to bring back a dry, fried booster this time.
The company, led by CEO Peter Beck, is set to launch the “Catch Me If You Can” mission at 1:15 p.m. EDT Friday (5:15 p.m. UTC).
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Electron is about to launch from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site with the Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy (MATS) spacecraft, a scientific research satellite for the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA). The payload initially flew on a Russian rocket. Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the payload is now flying with Rocket Lab.
Rocket Lab will need the weather to cooperate for this next test to go well.
According to Rocket Lab, the launch team will look to avoid fog and low cloud cover to maximize visibility for the helicopter shot. Once the helicopter has grabbed the propellant, the rocket will offload it to the Auckland production complex.
“Our first helicopter capture just a few months ago proved that we could do what we set out to do with Electron, and we look forward to bringing the helicopter back to market and improving the reusability even further. our rocket by bringing back a dry stage for the first time,” Beck said in a statement.
How to Catch a Falling Rocket
After launch and separation, the bottom half of the rocket returns to Earth, performing a series of complex maneuvers to enable it to survive the extreme heat as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket will travel at nearly 5,150 mph as it begins its descent to Earth.
Then, a stabilizer parachute deploys from the booster about 7 minutes after liftoff, beginning to slow Electron down. Then the main parachute deploys, slowing the booster to about 22 mph, allowing Rocket Lab’s Sikorsky helicopter to grab the parachute.
Finally, the helicopter will bring the booster back to earth.
The company then plans to refurbish and fly the rocket again, which will save millions in launch costs.
Rocket Lab will livestream the launch and capture attempt.