Rocket Lab’s attempt to capture the rocket booster falls short

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Rocket Lab, a start-up that builds small orbital rockets, launched another successful mission on Friday, but failed to recover its rocket booster when it crashed to Earth. The company deployed a helicopter with a hook attachment, but was unable to capture the booster.

The wild spectacle is part of the company’s plans to save money by recovering and reusing rocket parts after launching satellites into space.

The objective of the first mission hit its mark without a hitch. The company’s $7.5 million Electron rocket lifted off from the launch site in southern New Zealand at 1:27 p.m. Friday. The spacecraft carried a science research satellite into orbit for the Swedish National Space Agency.

Then, after the rocket’s first stage booster – the uppermost and lowest part of the rocket, which provides the initial thrust during liftoff – finished firing and detached from the rocket’s second stage, it began its descent to Earth and deployed a parachute to slow its descent. . Rocket Lab positioned a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to intercept it mid-descent, hoping to attach the booster to its tethers.

The helicopter pilot had about 10 minutes to try to get in to catch the booster parachute, Murielle Baker, Rocket Lab’s communications manager, said during a live stream of the launch.

But the rocket was never seen, and Baker confirmed on the live stream that the helicopter pilots said the booster would not return to the factory on land. In a tweet, the company announced that there was one data loss problem when re-entering the rocket.

“We’re backed up by an ocean splash,” Baker said. “We will bring you updates on that ocean operation in the coming hours.

“If we did that today, it wouldn’t be a failure for our recovery program. In fact, we have done several of them on our missions so far, and recently we were able to restart a Rutherford engine that had been returned from the ocean,” added Baker.

Rocket Lab director Peter Beck said it’s best to catch the rocket in mid-air to keep it dry.

This event It marked the company’s second attempt at using its newly invented helicopter capture method. After the first attempt in May, the hooked helicopter successfully caught the rocket in mid-air only to be deliberately released moments later by the pilots due to safety concerns.

“The first helicopter we captured just a few months ago proved we can do what we did with the Electron, and we’re looking forward to getting the helicopter out again and further advancing the reusability of our rocket by returning to the dry stage for the first time,” Beck said in a statement ahead of Friday’s launch. in one

After the May attempt he said it would still be worth the time and money to figure it out.

And he noted earlier this year that first-stage rocket boosters account for about 80% of the cost of a new rocket, so figuring out how to safely capture and reuse them after launch could save the company a bundle of money. Compared to the millions of dollars needed to manufacture a new rocket, renting a helicopter to try to recover it costs only about $4,000 to $5,000 an hour, Beck said.

Much is unclear about how Rocket Lab will reuse its rockets.

It took SpaceX several years to figure out how to safely and efficiently recover, refurbish and refurbish its first-stage rocket boosters. Beck cited the company as a model for how Rocket Lab would move forward.