Rocket Lab will attempt a mid-air capture of one of its Electron rockets for the first time during its next mission, which has a 14-day launch window starting April 19.
As the first stage of the Electron falls back to Earth, a customised twin-engined Sikorsky S-92 helicopter will try to capture its parachute line with a hook as it falls at a speed of 10 metres a second. All going well, the mid-air snatch will place about 150 nautical miles off the East Coast. The helicopter will then ferry the dangling Electron back to shore, where it will be analysed as part of Rocket Lab’s ongoing plan to develop a reusable rocket – which is better for the planet, and holds down costs.
Founder and CEO Peter Beck says the mid-air capture, while difficult, will mean less wear-and-tear on the Electron than the previously used retrieval-by-ship after an ocean splashdown.
Rocket Lab’s next rocket – the much larger Neutron, due to launch in 2024 – will be designed to be reusable from the get-go. It will be designed to land back on the launch pad after a mission and from there it would be returned to a production complex for refurbishment and relaunch.