The rocket captures the lab, then drops the booster in an attempt to capture the helicopter
The rocket lab, which aims to launch fast and cheap satellites into space, said it used helicopters to capture part of the mid-air rocket. But soon the rocket was thrown into the sea and eventually he had to fish out of the water.
The mission, labeled “There and Back Again,” departed at 6:50 ET.
Company communications consultant Muriel Baker, after initially declaring success, came to the webcast to admit that the helicopter pilot dropped the rocket after the helicopter pilot experienced a “different load feature” than he did during the test of the catch.
Still, Baker called the initial catch “the next big step.”
She said, “We saw a spectacular catch.
About 15 minutes after the webcast launch, the helicopter grabbed the rocket’s parachute and there was a roar from mission control, but moments later a depressing sigh was heard and the feed was cut.
Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, added on Twitter, “They left after hooking up because they weren’t happy with the way they were flying.”
“It requires extreme precision. A number of critical steps must be precisely aligned to ensure a successful capture,” Baker said earlier in the webcast.
Electron Rocket, Rocket Lab’s small rocket that launched nearly two dozen successful missions before Monday’s launch, successfully completed its primary objective: it deployed 34 satellite payloads for several commercial operators, increasing the total number of electron-launched satellites. Space 146.
After being separated from the first phase booster, the second phase of the electron continued to orbit to complete the satellite deployment, while the booster fell to Earth at a speed of about 5,150 miles per hour. Once close enough to the Earth’s surface, the booster deployed a parachute to reduce its descent. Hooks to catch the parachute of a helicopter booster.
Rocket booster mid-air capture is a big part of Rocket Lab’s ultimate goal of reusable rockets.
Other companies have used reusable rockets as a way to make the space business more profitable. In 2015, Blue Origin was the first company to launch a reusable rocket on a landing pad. After sending founder Jeff Bezos into space, the future of space tourism and people living on other planets will depend on reusable transport, the company said. Elon Musk’s SpaceX uses a reusable booster in his Falcon 9 rocket.
Rocket Lab, however, says there are other reasons to focus on recycling than just profit. “Our biggest problem is building rockets fast enough to help all of our customers,” Beck told CNN Business in 2019. Rocket Lab wants to launch satellite payloads more frequently – 50 times a year or more. Rocket recycling is required for this type of volume.
NASA has recovered a rocket booster from the Atlantic Ocean after launching a space shuttle. Rocket Lab plans to pursue helicopter techniques to recover the booster. The company says the electron is not large enough to carry the fuel supply needed for a straight landing and could cause rust and physical damage if it lands in a saltwater sea.
A custom Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, a large dual-engine helicopter commonly used for search and rescue missions and for offshore oil and gas transportation, was used in Monday’s capture. After successfully capturing the booster, the company plans to fly the machinery ocean recovery ship before heading to the company’s production complex for evaluation. But, in the end, it was thrown into the sea and there it took shape. Landing in the ocean is not optimal – seawater can cause rust, so Rocket Lab hopes the booster will be caught before it can find water.
The launch was postponed several times due to the weather. “For our first mid-air helicopter capture, we need ideal weather so we can focus on the catch,” Rocket Lab tweeted Monday. “As our weather tolerance for launches increases from time to time, so will our tolerance for weather in the recovery zone. For this first, we want to remove the weather consideration so that we can fully focus on catch and supporting operations.”
The California-based company has also released a video showing successful practice on the day of the launch, capturing a dummy booster as the helicopter lands.
Rocket Lab has previously carried out booster fishing from the sea in three of the Electron’s 25 previous missions. This was the first attempt at a mid-air catch.