Watch Live As Rocket Lab Attempts To Catch A Falling Booster Rocket From Space
SpaceX and Blue Origin have capitalized on being able to reuse rockets in order to save money and resources. Rocket Lab is also looking to lower launch costs with its unique approach to being able to reuse an orbital-class small rocket. Instead of the rocket using a propulsion system to lower itself back to Earth safely, the space company will attempt to catch the first stage booster rocket as it returns from space using a parachute and a helicopter.
Rocket Lab's "There And Back Again" mission will essentially be two-fold. It will first deploy 34 satellites after launch to a sun-synchronous orbit that includes a variety of different customers. The second portion of the mission is the space company's first attempt at a mid-air capture of Electron's first stage as it floats back down toward Earth following re-entry. This is Electron's 26th launch and will bring the total number of satellites launched by it to 146.
Electron is equipped with a heat shield that allows it to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric re-entry. Once it completes re-entry, it will deploy a parachute to slow it down as it returns to Earth. This will hopefully allow Rocket Lab's customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch the stage as it floats toward the ocean.
Once the parachute deploys at 13 km (8.3 miles) altitude, about seven and a half minutes post-launch, the main parachute will deploy. This will slow the rocket stage dramatically. As the stage enters the capture zone, the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter will attempt to capture the parachute line via a hook. Once secured, the helicopter will return the stage to a Rocket Lab recovery vessel for transport back to land.
Previous recovery missions by Rocket Lab included a splashdown into the ocean. While this will be the first attempt to catch a stage returning from space, the company has performed many mid-air capture tests (see video above). Once successful, the company says, "Electron will be one step closer to being the first reusable orbital small sat launcher."
If you want to watch the mid-air catch attempt live, you can tune in via Rocket Lab's website. Live coverage will begin at T-20 minutes before liftoff. You can follow Rocket Lab on Twitter to stay up to date on launch time.