Rocket Lab catches rocket traps by helicopter

The American company Rocket Lab has picked up one of its burnt out rocket stages from the sky with a helicopter. The pilot had to drop the dangling thing almost immediately, but this catch brings the company’s recyclable rocket closer.

Recycling rocket stairs makes gold money: Thanks to its self-landing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX can be launched at well below the price of competitors whose rockets are only usable once. The Rocket Lab company works on its own recyclable rockets – not by saving fuel and flying them back to a pontoon, but by catching them from the sky with a helicopter. The operation was successful on 3 May. There and back again over the sea off New Zealand for the first time.

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Rocket Lab has been launching satellites for years: the counter on its website stands at 1,700 in total, of which 146 are with the company’s latest rocket electron. It launched 43 new satellites into space on May 3, after which the burned-out first phase of the rocket parachuted back to Earth – only to be picked up from the sky by a Sikorsky helicopter with a hook. Because the colossus swung more and more back and forth than during training flights, the pilot quickly dropped it again, but the first success was achieved.

Rocket Lab rocket scene
The electron ladder on the lifeboat. © Peter Beck / Rocket Lab

With a certain sense of drama, Rocket Lab immediately threw its stunt out on the Internet. One video from the cockpit of the rescue helicopter shows how the rocket stage is trapped at about two kilometers altitude. “Incredible catch by the helicopter team,” cheers CEO Peter Beck Twitter† Upon release, the rocket stage crashed into the sea and was picked up by a lifeboat. The company is now investigating whether the rocket stage can be reused.

Pepper time

Rocket launches are very expensive: one kilogram payload orbiting the earth costs thousands of euros. SpaceX has managed to keep the price down in recent years thanks to its partially reusable rocket steps. “This is important because building rockets is a huge investment of time and money,” says chairman Moana Lengeek of the Delft rocket team DARE (Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering): “SpaceX, for example, has sets of boosters that have flown up to ten times. . “

At recycling, the launch price of the new Falcon Heavy from SpaceX is only 1330 euros, against 8,720 euros for the non-recyclable European Ariane 5G – and 55,185 euros per kilogram for the new SLS, with which NASA will have missions back to the moon. Not commercially attractive, but that missile has a luxury position due to its enormous carrying capacity and political backing. SLS is built by all kinds of small businesses in different US states and thus provides significant employment.

Human factor

Are rockets recycling in the future? According to Roderick Wassenaar, operations manager at DARE, it all depends on the mission. “For the sizes we are launching now, recycling is the way forward. You save time and money, and you can start very often and quickly. ” The sum is different for heavier rockets: too heavy to catch, and so heavy that they also need mountains of extra fuel to land again.

The question is which technique works best. Fishing for an electron or landing a Falcon Heavy: both have their own challenges. “The electron does not need a complicated control system or extra fuel,” says Wassenaar. At the same time, a helicopter flight in bad weather is not fun. “For SpaceX, self-landing rockets were ultimately the best option, if not the easiest.” Whether Rocket Lab can push itself into the tight launch market with angling technology remains to be seen, but it is certainly spectacular.

Sources: Universe Today, Rocket Lab

Photo: Rocket Lab

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