Rocket Lab's helicopter retrieval of a rocket booster could finally happen tomorrow

The mission has seen several delays.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A screenshot from Rocket Lab video shows the company using a helicopter to catch a falling Electron booster.RocketLab/ Twitter

New Zealand and U.S.-based Rocket Lab has been trying for quite some time now to perform its first mid-air Electron booster capture for reusable spaceflight in a mission called "There and Back Again".

The company has ambitious plans to deploy a Sikorsky-92 helicopter to catch its Electron booster out of the sky as it glides down to Earth using a parachute. The mission will deliver 34 small commercial satellites to orbit and will launch from Rocket Lab's Pad A at Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula.

A launch continuously delayed 

But its launch has been continuously delayed.

Earlier this month, we reported how the first-of-its-kind launch was going to take place on Friday, April 19. That date was swiftly moved to April 22 but that also didn't happen! The firm then announced an April 28 launch but that also was canceled.

Now, Rocket Lab released a tweet this Friday saying it was targeting May 1 or May 2 for a launch. Better yet, Rocket Lab's website says the event will be live-streamed.

"A live broadcast of the mission will be made available at approximately T-20 minutes to launch. We will attempt to provide a live view of the catch from the helicopter, but due to the remote location where the capture will take place, we do expect some video loss," reads the website.

An extraordinary mission

One thing is for sure, when Rocket Lab does manage to complete its mission it will be nothing short of extraordinary. The logistics of the mission are as follows:

The company's Electron booster will avoid disintegrating on re-entry thanks to the addition of heat shielding for this mission, added to protect it from temperatures of roughly 2,400 °C. As it nears the Earth's surface, the rocket will deploy two parachutes that will slow it down to 22.3 mph. 

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This is when a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter hovering at the landing zone will approach the booster and use a grappling hook to capture it as it glides down to sea level. If this sounds like a tricky maneuver to get right, it's because it is, making the mission all that more impressive. Could this be the future of space travel?

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