Rocket Lab Plans to Use a Helicopter to Catch a Rocket Mid-Air as It Returns from Space

Rocket Lab test launch from 2018 7 photos
Photo: Rocket Lab
The Electron booster for Rocket Lab's upcoming recovery missionRocket Lab Electron rocketRocket Lab Electron rocketRocket Lab Electron rocketRocket Lab Electron rocketRocket Lab Electron rocket
Rocket Lab announced plans to make its Electron rocket the first reusable orbital launch vehicle dedicated to small satellites. Towards that goal, a helicopter will monitor the rocket's descent during the company's next launch in preparation for future missions that seek to catch returning rocket boosters mid-air as they return to Earth.
Rocket Lab's next mission, dubbed 'Love At First Insight,' is set to take off from the company's Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand during a 14-day launch window that will open on November 11th. This will be Rocket Lab's fifth mission of this year and the third ocean recovery of an Electron stage.

But, this time, things will go down differently. The 'Love At First Insight' mission will carry two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring company BlackSky to Earth's low orbit and will serve as a testbed for future aerial capture efforts.

Rocket Lab will attempt to perform a controlled ocean splashdown and recovery of an Electron rocket's first stage in a few weeks. During the descent of the stage, new recovery hardware developments to Electron will be tested, including an advanced parachute that will open from a much higher altitude.

This will increase the drag, and the descent will be stabilized, enabling a controlled splashdown. Although the company will not use a helicopter to intercept and capture the first stage mid-air this time, it will deploy it to monitor its descent. The helicopter will be stationed a couple of hundred miles away, and it will test communications and tracking for future Electron aerial capture.

Following the stage's splashdown in the ocean, a team of Rocket Lab engineers will retrieve the component with a specialized cradle and winch system called Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus (ORCA) and return it to Rocket Lab's production complex in New Zealand for a thorough inspection.
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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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