The booster intentionally dropped from the helicopter due to load characteristics, nevertheless a huge moment for Rocket Lab and its quest to make its Electron launch vehicle partially reusable.
May 02, 2022 Rocket Lab (NASDAQ: $RKLB) has successfully launched its 26th Electron mission “There And Back Again” at 6:49 p.m. EDT (2249 UTC), deploying satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit about 323 miles (520 kilometers) for Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Spaceflight, and Unseenlabs. The mission brings the total number of satellites launched by Rocket Lab to 146. Among the payloads deployed were satellites designed to monitor light pollution, demonstrate space junk removal technologies, improve power restraints in small satellites, validate technology for sustainable satellite systems that can avoid collisions with untraceable space objects, enable internet from space, and build upon a maritime surveillance constellation.
After sending the satellites on their way with the second stage and Curie, the Electron's first stage came back down to Earth under parachutes. About 15 minutes after liftoff, as the booster glided toward the Pacific Ocean, a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter sidled up close to it and snagged the parachute line with a hook. The chopper later hauled the booster to a recovery ship, which will transport the hardware back to the hangar for inspection and analysis.
“Bringing a rocket back from space and catching it with a helicopter is something of a supersonic ballet,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “A tremendous number of factors have to align and many systems have to work together flawlessly, so I am incredibly proud of the stellar efforts of our Recovery Team and all of our engineers who made this mission and our first catch a success. From here we’ll assess the stage and determine what changes we might want to make to the system and procedures for the next helicopter catch and eventual re-flight.
The mid-air capture comes after successful recovery operations from Rocket Lab’s 16th, 20th, and 22nd missions, which saw Electron’s first stage execute a controlled ocean splashdown before being returned to Rocket Lab’s production complex. Like those missions, a reaction control system re-oriented the first stage to an ideal angle for re-entry during the “There And Back Again” mission, enabling the stage to survive the incredible heat and pressure during its descent back to Earth.
A drogue parachute was deployed to increase drag and to stabilize the first stage as it descended, before a large main parachute was deployed in the final kilometers of descent. “There And Back Again” is the first time a helicopter catch attempt was introduced to recovery operations, and today’s mission will inform future helicopter recoveries.
Rocket Lab says the next mission is scheduled within May 2022 with more details to be released in the coming days, along with their important mission to the moon.