After making history earlier this year by catching a rocket mid-air using a helicopter, but then fumbling it, Rocket Lab is ready to do it all over again.
The California-based company announced on Tuesday that it will make a second attempt at catching its Electron rocket as it returns from space this week. The rocket is scheduled to launch during a window that opens at 4:15 a.m. AEDT on Saturday, November 5, for the mission aptly titled, “Catch Me If You Can.”
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 in orbit. As it falls back to Earth with the help of a parachute, a helicopter will be ready to catch the first stage mid-air 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 reusability even further by bringing back a dry stage for the first time.”
Indeed, during its first attempt, on May 2, Rocket Lab pulled off the daring stunt but it wasn’t quite perfect. The helicopter managed to snag the parachute line with a hook, catching the booster when it was roughly 1,980 metres above the Pacific Ocean. The customised 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.
Rocket Lab is now hoping to bring a dry booster to shore. Should it manage to do that this time, the company will examine the feasibility of reusing the rocket stage for future missions. Rocket Lab wants to reduce launch costs by reusing its boosters similar to how SpaceX re-uses its Falcon 9 rocket, though Elon Musk’s company lands its boosters vertically on landing pads or offshore platforms.
It may be the second time around for Rocket Lab and its daring helicopter catch, but we’re still very excited to see how it unfolds.
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