Rocket Lab achieved a world first on Monday when its helicopter caught a launch vehicle as it fell from the sky. However, moments after being caught, the booster was released and splashed into the sea.
The company accomplished the feat during its There and back again Mission to put 34 satellites into orbit for a number of private companies.
A livestream of the mission showed the first stage booster returning to Earth shortly after launch, its descent slowed by a parachute. The video (below) also captured the moment the grappling hook of Rocket Lab’s Sikorsky S-92 custom helicopter successfully caught the parachute’s drogue line.
A Rocket Lab spokesman said that after successfully catching the booster, the pilot noticed that the extra weight was affecting the helicopter’s flight performance more than expected. So instead of sticking with the original plan of transporting the booster to a salvage vessel, the pilot decided to unload it for a successful splashdown. It was then retrieved from the water by a waiting Rocket Lab team.
“Incredible catch by the recovery team, I can’t explain how difficult this catch was and how the pilots pulled it off,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted shortly after the end of the mission. “They released it after plugging it in as they weren’t happy with the flight performance, but no big deal, the rocket landed safely and the ship is loading it now.”
Catching the first stage of its Electron rocket instead of letting it land in the water allows the company to reuse the booster, which can reduce mission costs, increase the frequency of launches, and reduce the amount of waste materials. If the rocket remained intact after Monday’s splashdown, there’s still a chance parts of it can be reused.
Rocket Lab spent several years planning Monday’s capture attempt, using a dummy rocket booster to practice the process. The partial success gives the company hope that it can now refine the process and make it an integral part of its electron launch activities.
Rocket Lab, founded by Beck in 2006, later confirmed that all of the satellites had been successfully deployed on the company’s 26th orbital mission.
While it aims to perfect the rocket catching process with its two-stage Electon rocket, with its next-gen Neutron rocket it plans to land the first-stage booster upright, much like SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.
How to watch Rocket Lab catch a falling rocket booster on Monday
The Rocket Lab video shows a mid-air rocket trap practice run
NASA sets a new date for the first launchpad test of its mega lunar rocket
Rocket Lab plans to catch a falling rocket this month
NASA cancels second attempt at lunar rocket launch pad test
This article was previously published on Source link