Rocket Lab catches booster with a helicopter8. 5. 2022
On Monday, May 2, Rocket Lab successfully launched and recovered an Electron booster with a helicopter for the first time during the “There and Back Again” mission which delivered 34 payloads to a sun-synchronous orbit of 520km.
For the first time, Electron was equipped with a very thin thermal protection layer over the carbon fiber to help minimize the temperatures of the booster during its return from space.
Electron first stage booster reoriented to an engine first position after stage separation and then reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. A drogue chute was deployed at around 13km, followed then by the main parachute at about 6km. At T+18 minutes after liftoff, the helicopter flew above the booster and caught the parachute with a hook. The parachute is designed to collapse after the catch for a safe drop off on land.
After a successful mid-air catch, the helicopter pilot noticed different load characteristics than expected and released the booster for a soft water splashdown and an ocean recovery. It is unknown if Rocket Lab will attempt to re-fly this booster or use it as a pathfinder for improving Electron recovery design and operations. Even though the recovery did not go exactly as planned, Rocket Lab proved it is possible.
Rocket Lab first announced plans to make Electron reusable in 2019 and now they are closer than ever to reaching that goal. If successful, it will make it it the first reusable launch vehicle for the small satellites market. Reusability is very important for Rocket Lab as their next rocket Neutron will perform a propulsive landing next to the launch site.