The space company briefly managed to catch a falling rocket with a helicopter and a hook in a test that its CEO called “something like a supersonic ballet.”
The test was part of Rocket Lab’s attempts to find relatively inexpensive ways to recover rockets for multiple missions into space.
After takeoff send 34 satellites into orbit at 10.50 local time (23:50 BST) at New ZealandCalifornia-based Electron’s four-story overclocking stage fell through the Earth’s atmosphere and deployed a series of parachutes to slow down its speed.
At high altitudes over the South Pacific, off the coast of New Zealand, a helicopter hanging from a long vertical cable from below was piloted by two pilots over a launch vehicle that stretched the capture line to the side as it descended by parachute. at a speed of about 35 km / h.
The helicopter rope caught on the carrier’s capture line, which could be seen live on the company, which caused applause and applause from Rocket Lab engineers at the company’s flight control center in Long Beach.
But the applause turned into moans when helicopter pilots were forced to release the rocket from the cable and drop it into the Pacific Ocean, noticing “different load characteristics” than there were during previous capture tests, a Rocket Lab spokesman later said.
Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, said: “Bringing a rocket back from space and catching it with a helicopter is something like a supersonic ballet. A huge number of factors need to be reconciled and many systems need to work together flawlessly, so I am incredibly proud of the stellar efforts of our recovery team and all of our engineers who made this mission and our first catch a success. ”
The rocket stage made a controlled burst into the ocean after a brief capture. The onboard systems oriented the missile so as to minimize damage from its impact with water. He was then loaded onto a recovery ship.
His condition will be assessed and a decision made on whether to restore it for another flight. Reusing rocket stages significantly reduces the cost of entering orbit. Catching them before they squirt removes the risk of salt water damage and impact.
The team will also consider a brief capture to understand what happened and determine if changes are needed before the next helicopter attempt. Another Electron launch is scheduled for the end of this month.
Reuters contributed to this report