After nearly three years of production, the small satellite launch company Rocket Lab is trying to catch one of its rockets in mid-air today, after being launched into space from New Zealand. Once the missile returns to Earth, the rocket laboratory will use a helicopter to try to deactivate the booster before hitting the ocean. This allows the missile to be re-launched.
This is the first time Rocket Lab has attempted to capture one of its electron missiles in a helicopter, and as part of the company’s plan to recover and reuse its vehicles after launch. So far, the electron – designed to propel groups of small satellites into low Earth orbit – has been a consumption rocket. Most of these missiles fall to the ground after each flight and are eventually destroyed.
But by capturing its rockets and reusing them after flight, Rocket Lab hopes to build a completely new rocket for each of its missions and reduce the associated production costs. The goal of the popular SpaceX is to land rockets and reuse them after flight. Rocket Lab claims that retrieving and reusing its missiles will help speed up their flight speeds. “By rebuilding, it saves a lot of time because it’s not necessary to build a new rocket from scratch,” says Peter Beck, CEO of the Rocket Laboratory. Margin. “So obviously we’ve going to see some good cost savings, but now I think the most important thing for us is getting the vehicles back on the production line.”
When the electron explodes in space, the onboard computers redirect the booster back through the Earth’s atmosphere, maneuvering it in the right direction and leaving it as it is when it lands on Earth. When the missile reaches an altitude of about 8.3 miles, it uses a rolling canopy to slow its fall, followed by a flagship parachute. As the missile floats slowly towards the sea, the helicopter arrives and tries to catch the parachute line with the hanging hook, avoiding splashing in the salty sea water.
The Rocket Laboratory has been operating on the recovery program since 2019 Announced that it was trying to make its electronic missiles reusable. The first big test came in December 2019 at Rocket Lab I tested its guidance and control system on the electron. According to the Rocket Laboratory, directing the fall of an electron through the atmosphere is one of the most difficult parts of this whole process. “A lot of people think catching a rocket is hard, and it’s definitely hard,” Peck says. “But really, from an engineering point of view, the hardest thing is to make sure the missile survives by re-entry.” When the missile descends it can reach speeds of over 5,000 miles per hour, and it must be a piece of burning plasma that accumulates around the vehicle.
Rocket Lab successfully shot down electron missiles Ocean, and the company recovered three rockets from the water to learn more about their voyages to land. The company’s engineers were able to open the missiles and remove some of their components for re-launch. Rocket Lab too Demonstrate the ability of the electron to use various parachutes After launch. And company Helicopter to pick up a fake missile in the sky (The fake booster did not fall from space, but was launched from another nearby helicopter.)
Now, Rocket Lab is combining all those steps together in its forthcoming release, called “There and Back Again” – an acknowledgment of the nature of the journey and a fitting tribute to New Zealand where the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were. Filmed. Even if the company rehearses every move, it has to do it all together to get started. “Another thing that is really logically challenging: is it possible to meet a missile under a parachute in the middle of the ocean?” Says Peck. “I mean, a few minutes ago, he was traveling eight times faster than sound.”
If the helicopter succeeds in capturing the electron, the company will take the booster back to New Zealand and load it on the truck. If the journey home is too difficult the missile can be dropped on the boat first. Rocket Lab will take a closer look at it to see how good the car was after that. From now on, the rocket laboratory will select what tasks to recover. Recovered aircraft require more internal systems, which means the car cannot be carried too much into space. In addition, the orbit of an electron will affect the decision of the rocket laboratory to attempt a helicopter hunt. “Some paths are not very suitable for recovery,” Beck says. “So not every vehicle is 100 percent recyclable. This is probably 50 percent or more.
But first, the rocket laboratory must prove that it can catch a missile dropped by a helicopter. The company, which has been waiting for better weather, has postponed the release several times. Now, “Back there” Departure is scheduled for 6:35 PM ET, Capturing the helicopter, shortly after the main parachute was sent, eight and a half minutes after launch. Morgan Bailey, communications director at Rocket Labs, said the company would try to provide a live broadcast of the event and that the camera would be in the helicopter’s pickup line. But the company warns that it will always be difficult to maintain contact.
“Space is hard but so is live TV.” Billy tweeted.
May 2, 4:50 PM and updated: This post has been updated with additional information on how Booster can go home.
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