Rocket Lab has taken a big step towards making the Electron Orbital Launch Vehicle (ORV) a reusable rocket. The company successfully captured the first stage of Electron in the atmosphere by helicopter for the first time upon returning to Earth afterwards. diffusion 34 satellites are in orbit. To make sure the first stage would survive re-entry into the atmosphere, Rocket Lab redirected it to the perfect angle that would give it the best chances of withstanding the immense heat and pressure. A rolling canopy is then deployed to increase drag before the main parachute opens in the final part of its descent.
The company sent a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to rendezvous with the return stage 6,500 feet in the air, using a hook on a cable to pick up the booster’s parachute line. While the catch was a success, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck He said on Twitter That the pilots were not happy with the way the booster was hanging below the helicopter and chose to drop it in the ocean. It was eventually retrieved and loaded onto a ship for transport back to Rocket Lab’s headquarters for a reassessment of the voyage.
Rocket Lab says the test gave the helicopter pilot “different payload characteristics from those previously tested in the test” and will provide information critical to future helicopter pickups. The goal is to be able to grab the booster in the air and return it straight to land instead of having to drop it into the sea, because salt water can damage the booster. If the company successfully demonstrates that it can reuse its boosters similar to what SpaceX can do, it could increase the launch pace and reduce the costs of a small satellite mission.
Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab said:
“Repatriating a rocket from space and picking it up in a helicopter is a kind of supersonic ballet. An enormous number of factors have to align and many systems have to work together flawlessly, so I am very proud of the incredible efforts of our recovery team and all of our engineers who make it happen. They did the job and it worked the first time. From here we will evaluate the phase and determine what changes we might want to make to the system and procedures for the next helicopter pick-up and eventually return flight.”
The company is scheduled to launch again in May, but it is unclear if it will attempt to recover another helicopter.
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