Space

Rocket Lab uses a helicopter to catch its booster in mid-air

Rocket Lab uses a helicopter t...
Rocket Lab tested out its aerial booster recovery technique in New Zealand in early March
Rocket Lab tested out its aerial booster recovery technique in New Zealand in early March
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Rocket Lab tested out its aerial booster recovery technique in New Zealand in early March
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Rocket Lab tested out its aerial booster recovery technique in New Zealand in early March
One helicopter was responsible for releasing the rocket and the second did the catching
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One helicopter was responsible for releasing the rocket and the second did the catching

Recovering rockets for re-use is becoming a key consideration for those in the private spaceflight game, with the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin leading the charge. Rocket Lab is looking to join the party by collecting the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle in midair using a helicopter, a method that it has now successfully demonstrated over the open ocean in New Zealand.

Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab first revealed its rocket recycling intentions in August last year, announcing plans to recover the Electron’s first stage from the ocean, as well as from mid-air. This would see the first-stage re-enter the atmosphere and deploy a parachute after delivering its payload into orbit to help reduce its velocity as it plummets towards the Earth. Then it can either make a soft landing on the ocean or a helicopter can come along and snatch it up in the air, by grabbing the line that connects it to the parachute with a specially designed grappling hook.

Rocket Lab put this helicopter-capture technique to the test in early March in New Zealand, which it notes was before the country entered Alert Level 4 lockdown of its COVID-19 response. The exercise saw the Electron first stage dummy hoisted up over the open ocean with a helicopter and then released, with the parachute then slowing its descent and a second helicopter coming along and successfully snaffling it from the air on its first attempt.

One helicopter was responsible for releasing the rocket and the second did the catching
One helicopter was responsible for releasing the rocket and the second did the catching

“Congratulations to the recovery team here at Rocket Lab on a flawless mid-air recovery test,” says Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck. “Electron has already unlocked access to space for small satellites, but every step closer to reusability is a step closer to even more frequent launch opportunities for our customers. We’re looking forward to pushing the technology even further this year and bringing a flown stage back to the factory.”

From here, Rocket Lab will now look to test out the other key plank of its recovery strategy later this year, where a first stage uses the parachute to perform a soft landing on the ocean. Once collected by ship, the first stage will then be carried off to Rocket Lab’s production facility in New Zealand for refurbishment.

You can check out a video of the helicopter capture test below.

Rocket Lab | Mid-Air Recovery Demo

Source: Rocket Lab

8 comments
WB
ohm so how is this a big deal.. they released a weight and someone caught it.. big deal
ChairmanLMAO
was the music really neccesary. like drama omg why didn't they paint a big coronavirus on it and grand finale with the line "anyone can catch it. wear your mask!"
Bob809
I bet that took some practice, but well done for doing it, achieving that. Shame some people cannot see the good in what has been done here instead of somthing negative, like we need more of that. The hard work achieving that capture has paid off. Nice job Rocket Lab.
buzzclick
It took three helicopters to carry out and film this recovery procedure, but we are not told why a soft landing in the ocean and recovery wouldn't do. The epic musical soundtrack is a little over the top here and causes one to wonder: why is this release and catch given such importance?
Bodger
Coincidence? This technique was used during the CORONA satellite film drops back in the early days of spy satellites to bring film "buckets" back to earth where they were caught (sometimes) by specially-rigged cargo planes.
Grunchy
So maybe this means, using that special parachute technique, a company like SpaceX wouldn't need extra rocket fuel to subsequently land the booster. Plus probably every single booster could be captured. Plus they could be placed on the ground more gently than by any other method. YAWN, big deal. zzz
Jim-999
More of a hope your feeling lucky, than drive it back to home base.
ljaques
OK, kudos for a low-cost recovery system. I'll bet they way overpaid that hi-drama videomaker. Want some real E-ticket snagging by an airplane? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PErEsNhDmo8 The description by Richard Marcinko in his Rogue Warrior books was a lot more exciting. Zero to 120mph in under a second is spine-compressing acceleration.