A Helicopter Will Try to Catch a Rocket This Week

2 min readApr 19, 2022

by Adrianna Nine

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Photo: Rocket Lab

(Photo: Rocket Lab)Tomorrow a private aerospace company will attempt to snatch its own rocket booster out of mid air using a helicopter.

Southern California-based Rocket Lab builds and launches a variety of aerospace equipment, but its claim to fame is a reusable small launch vehicle called Electron. Just 18 meters tall, this two-stage rocket booster is made to deliver small satellites either individually or as “rideshare,” or multiple satellites at a time. It’s the only reusable orbital-class rocket currently in use; the only rocket that comes close is SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is designed to launch up to ten times but stands over 70 meters tall.

In order to actually reuse Electron, Rocket Lab needs to be able to recover it before it sustains water damage from landing in the ocean. That’s where tomorrow’s mission comes in. Two and a half minutes after lifting off from Pad A at Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula, Electron’s two stages will separate. The first stage will then be allowed to fall at 5,150 miles per hour, reaching temperatures of around 4,352 degrees Fahrenheit. Two parachutes will deploy at about eight and four miles respectively, after which a helicopter pilot will be responsible for capturing the parachute line with a hook.

Once Electron is (hopefully) brought safely back to land, Rocket Lab will inspect the rocket booster to determine its suitability for reflight. Rocket Lab has used imitation devices to conduct test runs of the recapture mission before but has never attempted to grab a real launch vehicle out of the air.

Tomorrow’s mission won’t just be an experiment, though. Electron’s first stage will deploy 34 payloads from a handful of commercial operators (Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Unseenlabs, and Swarm Technologies), bringing its total satellite launch count up to…


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