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Rocket Lab successfully catches booster returning from space with helicopter

Electron launch. Credit: Rocket Lab

Edinburgh / Long Beach, 3 May 2022. – Rocket Lab has successfully deployed 34 satellites to orbit during its “There And Back Again” mission, which also included a mid-air capture of the Electron booster with a helicopter for the first time. This was the company’s 26th Electron mission. Rocket Lab has deployed a total of 146 satellites to orbit with the launch vehicle so far.

Electron’s first stage re-entered the atmosphere under a parachute. A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter was waiting for the returning stage and captured the parachute line using a hook at 2000 m high. The mid-air capture is part of Rocket Lab’s plan to make Electron a reusable rocket. The stage was then loaded onto the company’s recovery vessel and transported for analysis. Rocket Lab will now assess whether the stage is suitable for re-flight.

The helicopter catch follows three successful recovery operations of the first stage during controlled ocean splashdowns. A reaction control system re-oriented the stage to an ideal angle for re-entry in all cases, including the “There And Back Again” mission. A drogue parachute was then deployed to increase drag and to stabilize the first stage during descent, before the main parachute deployment, the company explained.

The launch from New Zealand deployed satellites for Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Spaceflight, and Unseenlabs.

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