Rocket Lab • The Registry

Rocket Lab • The Registry

Private launch equipment Rocket Lab again failed to capture one of the first stages of the Electron launcher with a helicopter as it drifted back to Earth.

“Returning a rocket from space is a challenging task, and capturing it in the air with a helicopter is as complicated as it sounds,” said Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. “The probability of success is much smaller than that of failure, because many complex factors have to fit together perfectly.”

Rocket Lab’s Electron can carry 300kg into low Earth orbit and has over 30 successful launches to its credit. But the craft isn’t reusable because the first stage either splashes into the ocean — making quite a mess of its engines — or burns up on return. Rocket Lab has recovered Electron boosters and successfully recovered and restored one engine for terrestrial firing tests.

To make Electron reusable, the company hopes to capture Electrons as they float to Earth under a parachute.

That plan requires the use of Sikorsky S-92 helicopter that’s more than capable of carrying the 1000kg booster.

But catching it is another matter.

As Rocket Lab personnel explained during the mission’s live-streamed video (below): “Between the main parachute deployment and the time it would take Electron to reach the ocean, our pilots have about ten minutes to catch the time it takes for our pilots to pilot the Sikorsky, balance the swing of the hook below it while attached to the helicopter’s leash, align exactly with Electron’s parachute line and then secure the missile below it. set for the return journey.”

Unfortunately, a brief loss of telemetry from Electron’s first stage during the return on this occasion meant that the capture was not attempted. And fair enough, since the Sikorsky crew clearly needs to be very sure that they know the missile won’t knock them out of the sky.

Youtube video

Rocket Lab does not consider the mission a failure, as it managed to recover the booster from the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.

“We are proud to have successfully salvaged our fifth rocket from the ocean and look forward to another attempt at air capture in the future as we work to turn Electron into a reusable rocket.” said Beck.

The CEO is happy with the main task of this mission: launching a satellite called MATS (Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy) for the Swedish Space Agency.

MATS’s job is to investigate waves in the atmosphere and their impact on the Earth’s climate. The satellite does this by studying variations in the light emitted by oxygen molecules at an altitude of 100 kilometres.

The satellite ascended without incident and now occupies a 585 km circular orbit, making it the 152nd orbiter successfully launched by Rocket Lab. ®

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