Rocket Lab just did something we’ve never seen before.
Rocket Lab sent 34 satellites into orbit today (May 2) with its two phases Electronic launch pad, took off from the company’s website in New Zealand at 6:49 p.m. EDT (2249 GMT). Impressive enough, but it’s action in an unprecedented downward direction.
After putting the satellites on the road, Electron’s first stage returns The earth under the umbrella. About 15 minutes after takeoff, as the plane intensified its glide toward the Pacific Ocean, a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter darted close to it and hooked up its parachute with a hook. If all goes to plan, the helicopter will transport the boosters to a recovery vessel, which will transport the hardware back to the terra firma for testing and analysis.
“Absolutely unbelievable stuff there!” Rocket Lab Senior Communications Advisor Murielle Baker said during the launch of the webcast today. “We have successfully captured the Electron booster underneath the parachute!”
Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (pictured)
The dramatic move is part of Rocket Lab’s effort to make Electron’s early stages reusable, an achievement that could reduce costs and increase launch frequency, a company representative said. .
Space fans are familiar with reusable rockets thanks to SpaceXusually lands and flies the first stages of the Falcon 9 rocket (as well as that of the Falcon Heavy, which has launched three times to date). Falcon 9 The first stage of a thrust landing, which uses engine combustion to redirect itself to soft, vertical landing aircraft on land or “drone” platforms at sea.
But the 59-foot (18-meter) Electron is too small for that; Rocket Lab representatives said the early stage boosters could not carry enough fuel to have enough remaining for landing operations. So the company decided to implement a strategy of capturing helicopters.
Rocket Lab has been steadily building up to the historic achievement it is today. The company recovered the early-stage Electron from the soft ocean crash on three recent missions, and it has catching a falling dummy booster with a helicopter in a series of drop tests.
Today’s mission – the 26th overall for the Rocket and Electronics Laboratory – was delayed several times as the Rocket Lab waited for clear weather in the fishing zone, about 170 miles off the coast of New Zealand. (275 km). The company has a history of giving its flights funny names, and they named the flight “There And Back Again”.
34 satellites have flown on “There And Back Again” – more than any previous Electron mission – powered by a variety of customers, including Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Spaceflight Inc . and Unseenlabs, Rocket Lab wrote in a mission description.
All are expected to be deployed into a solar synchronous orbit about 323 miles (520 km) from Earth within an hour of takeoff. Once that happens, the total number of satellites transported by Electron to date will increase to 146.
Electron won’t be the only launch pad in the stable Rocket Lab for much longer, if everything goes according to plan. The company is developing a larger rocket called Neutrons, slated to fly for the first time in 2024. Neutrons were designed to be partially reusable from the start; A representative of Rocket Lab said that its first stage will perform a Falcon 9-like thrust landing.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow them on Twitter @Spacedotcom or above Facebook.
https://www.space.com/rocket-lab-helicopter-booster-catch-satellite-launch Epic catch! Rocket Lab snags falling booster with helicopter after 34-satellite launch