Rocket Lab will attempt to catch a rocket booster with a helicopter once again this week

The rocket startup will attempt to catch its Electron booster in mid-air and fly it back to dry land.
Chris Young
Images from Rocket Lab's last recovery attempt.
Images from Rocket Lab's last recovery attempt.

Rocket Lab 

U.S. and New Zealand-based Rocket Lab will perform a second mid-air recovery attempt of its Electron rocket booster after the launch of a mission called "Catch Me If You Can," a press statement reveals.

The launch is scheduled for November 4 at 1:15 p.m. Eastern from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The mission will lift a scientific satellite into orbit for the Swedish National Space Agency.

Rocket Lab to attempt another mid-air booster recovery

This week's launch will be Rocket Lab's second attempt at recovering an Electron rocket booster mid-air with the help of a parachute and a helicopter.

The first attempt, back in May, saw the private space firm grab the booster out of the sky with a winch and a hook hanging from a helicopter. However, moments after the booster, descending slowly, thanks to a parachute, was caught, the helicopter pilot released it into the sea. The reason behind that quick release, Rocket Lab said at the time, is that the pilot noticed “different load characteristics than what we've experienced in testing."

On that occasion, the rocket booster splashed down into the ocean and was recovered by a boat. If all works as intended, however, the Electron booster's 5,000 mph descent will be slowed down by two parachutes to a speed of roughly 22 mph, slowing it down sufficiently for a Sikorsky-92 helicopter to pluck it out of the sky and carry it to dry land. Heat shielding stops the booster from disintegrating as it reenters the Earth's atmosphere.

Since that time, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck has stated that Rocket Lab has been carrying out additional helicopter training ahead of its next mid-air recovery.

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“Our first helicopter catch only a few months ago proved we can do what we set out to do with Electron, and we’re eager to get the helicopter back out there and advance our rocket reusability even further by bringing back a dry stage for the first time,” Beck added in Rocket Lab's press statement.

Rocket Lab sets its sights on Venus

Prior to the mid-air recovery, the "Catch Me If You Can" mission will lift a satellite called Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy (MATS) into orbit aboard Electron. The satellite was funded by the Swedish National Space Agency and built by OHB Sweden, while AAC Clyde Space provided some components. The satellite is designed to study waves in the upper atmosphere.

A successful mission will make Rocket Lab the second private space firm to have a fully functioning reusable rocket booster technology after SpaceX. While the mid-air helicopter rocket recovery may not be as dramatic as SpaceX's automated Falcon 9 booster landings, it is an impressive feat nonetheless. Catching the boosters straight out of the sky allows the company to avoid any complications caused by saltwater intrusion in the case of a soft splashdown over the ocean.

Rocket Lab has a number of ambitious projects in the works. The company is also developing its larger, reusable Neutron rocket, which will similarly perform propulsive landings to Falcon 9. The company also aims to be the first private space firm to send a mission to a neighboring planet with an upcoming Venus-bound, self-funded mission currently slated for 2023. Stay posted for more updates from this week's launch and mid-air recovery.

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