After making history earlier this year by catching a rocket mid-flight using a helicopter but then dropping it immediately afterward, Rocket Lab is ready to do it all again. They’ll launch a rocket into space this week and attempt to catch its four-story-tall booster with a helicopter as it falls back to Earth.
The rocket known as “Electron” will take off from Pad B at Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, carrying a research satellite for the Swedish National Space Agency. After liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage engine will separate from the second stage that’s designed to deploy the satellite into orbit. As it falls back to Earth with the help of a parachute, a helicopter will be ready to catch the first stage mid-flight with a parachute line.
“Our first helicopter catch only a few months ago proved we can do what we set out to do with Electron,” Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a statement. “We’re eager to get the helicopter back out there and advance our rocket’s reusability even further by bringing back a dry stage for the first time.”
The first attempt made by Rocket Lab on May 2 wasn’t quite perfect. Although the helicopter managed to snag the parachute line with a hook, catching the booster when it was roughly 6,500 feet (1,980 meters) above the Pacific Ocean, The customized Sikorsky S-92 was supposed to carry the booster to shore, but the pilots, upon noticing “different load characteristics” than those experienced during previous test flights, decided to drop the rocket just to be safe.
Now for this attempt, Rocket Lab is using a modified Sikorsky S-92, which will match the booster’s speed of 22 mph (36 kph) and attempt to hook its trailing parachute. It will then be taken back to the Production Complex in Auckland, New Zealand, and, if successful, could make Electron the world’s first operational, reusable small rocket.
Rocket Lab CEO and founder, Peter Beck, says: “Our first helicopter catch only a few months ago proved we can do what we set out to do with Electron.” We’re eager to get the helicopter back out there and advance our rocket reusability even further by bringing back a dry stage for the first time.