Rocket Lab, a company that makes small orbital missiles, launched another successful mission Friday. But it failed to recover its rocket booster, which tumbled toward Earth. The company deployed a helicopter fitted with a hook attachment but it was unable to catch the booster.
The company plans to make money by reusing rocket parts that have been used to launch satellites into orbit.
The primary mission objective was achieved without any difficulties. At 1:27 pm, the company’s $7.5million Electron rocket lifted off from its launch pad in southern New Zealand. ET Friday. The spacecraft also carried a Swedish National Space Agency science research satellite.
The rocket’s first-stage booster, which is the highest, lowest portion of the rocket and gives off the initial thrust at liftoff, was completed firing. After it separated from its second stage, it began falling toward Earth. A parachute was deployed to slow the rocket down. Rocket Lab deployed a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to intercept the booster mid-descent.
Murielle Baker, Rocket Lab’s communications manager on the live stream, stated that the pilot of the helicopter only had 10 minutes to go before the booster’s parachute was deployed to try to capture the captured pilot.
Baker confirmed via live stream that the rocket was not visible and that the pilots in the helicopter said that the booster would not be returning home dry. The company posted a tweet stating that data was lost during the rocket’s return.
Baker stated, “We have the option of an underwater splashdown.” “We will provide updates on that operation in the hours ahead.
“If that were done today it wouldn’t be a failure for the recovery program. Baker stated that there have been many such operations across all of our missions. The most recent was when we were able to fire a Rutherford engine that had been recovered from the ocean.
Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO has said that it’s better to catch the rocket in mid-air than to dry it.
This was the second time that the company tried its newly developed helicopter-catch method. After the May first attempt, the helicopter-wielding hook did manage to snag the rocket in midair but the pilots dropped it shortly afterward due to safety concerns.
Beck released a statement before Friday’s launch, saying that “our first helicopter catch only months ago proved that we can do what was set out for us with Electron”, and that we are eager to get the helicopter out there again and improve our rocket’s reusability even further.
He said that after the May try, it would still be worth the effort and time.
He noted earlier this year, that the cost of a first-stage rocket booster is about 80%. So figuring out how the company can safely capture and reuse them would help save the company a lot of money. Beck said that compared to the millions of dollars needed to build a new rocket it costs only $4,000 to rent a helicopter for recovery. This is a difference of $5,000 an hour.
Rocket Lab’s plans for its rockets are still unclear.
SpaceX took several years to learn how to safely and efficiently repair, refurbish, and fly its first-stage rocket boosters. Beck mentioned the company as an example of how Rocket Lab should proceed.