Rocket Lab is a rapidly expanding commercial space company looking to emulate the overwhelming success of SpaceX.
Like its rival, Rocket Lab intends to build a reusable rocket system to reduce the cost of its space missions, which have so far put satellites into orbit for a number of private companies.
However, the two companies differ significantly in their approach to missile recovery. While SpaceX has already completed the landing process for its Falcon 9 first stage booster, Rocket Lab has fished its own boosters out of the ocean. But now it’s gearing up for its first-ever attempt to grab a falling electron booster out of the sky with a helicopter.
Rocket Lab will attempt the feat during a commercial ride-along mission, currently scheduled no earlier than April 19, with a custom-built Sikorsky S-92 helicopter attempting to fly the Electron’s 40-foot-tall first stage just minutes after liftoff from its Set up to get hold of in New Zealand.
The trial will take place about 150 miles off the coast of New Zealand. The booster will use parachutes to slow its descent. This allows the helicopter to make a close approach before deploying a specially designed grappling hook to grab the parachute’s drogue line and capture the booster. The helicopter will then transport the captured component to land, after which Rocket Lab will assess its suitability for use on another mission.
Two years ago, the company managed to use a helicopter to bring down a dummy carrier from the sky during a training mission.
Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck commented on the upcoming mission called: “During our 16th, 20th and 22nd missions, we conducted many successful helicopter shots with replica stages, conducted extensive parachute tests and successfully recovered Electron’s first stage from the ocean. Now it’s time to put everything together for the first time and get Electron out of the sky.”
Beck added, “Trying to catch a rocket as it falls back to earth is no easy feat, we’re absolutely threading the needle here… We expect to learn a tremendous amount from the mission as we work toward the ultimate.” Working toward the goal of making Electron the first reusable orbital small satellite launcher and offering our customers even more launch availability.”
Rocket Lab is also developing a more powerful two-stage rocket called the Neutron, which is suitable not only for satellite use, but also for interplanetary missions and even human spaceflight.
The new rocket is scheduled to make its first orbital flight in 2024. In this case, however, Rocket Lab plans to land the first stage booster the same way SpaceX does with the Falcon 9, rather than getting it down from a helicopter.
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