They recovered a missile in a full helicopter flight (but for what?)

Rocket Lab Sikorsky S-92 is used to restore the missile stage. Photo: Rocket Lab USA.

contracting Rocket Lab Just announced the “mission success” of 26And Launch Electron, its reusable rocket. Rocket The helicopter picked up part of it in flight, for a brief moment, upon returning to Earth. It’s the first.

The acquisition of the return missile was described as “a very complex process that requires extreme precision”, According to the company. This two-stage launcher is used to deploy 146 small satellites so far into sun-synchronous orbit.

The second stage of the Electron rocket remained in orbit, and the first stage of the launch vehicle returned to Earth, where a helicopter tried to catch up with it in mid-air.

“Amazing catch”

“We witnessed an amazing electron capture by our helicopter pilot,” said Muriel Baker of Rocket Lab during the launch livestream. “This is a huge step in our program to make Electron a reusable launch vehicle.”

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Photo: Rocket Lab.

The helicopter recovery mission is an important step in the company’s ultimate goal of making Electron the first reusable orbital launch vehicle for small satellites.

The company used a dedicated Sikorsky S-92 helicopter. It is a large, twin-engine helicopter, usually used for transportation on offshore oil and gas platforms, as well as for search and rescue operations.

Its speed is about 8300 km/h and temperatures are around 2400°C

An hour before the missile took off, the helicopter moved to its position in the recovery area, about 150 nautical miles (280 km) from the coast of New Zealand. The Electron rocket lifted off from a launch pad on the New Zealand Mahia Peninsula. The rocket carried 34 satellites.

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The first and second stages of the rocket separated at T + 2:30 minutes after takeoff. When the second stage of the rocket fell to Earth, it reached a speed of nearly 8,300 km/h and temperatures of nearly 2,400 degrees Celsius.

At an altitude of 13 kilometers, the missile deployed a stabilizing parachute to slow its rate of descent.

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The Electron rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 1’s A platform on the Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo: Rocket Lab.

The helicopter then had to grab the parachute wire with a hook before returning to the ground. However, after the recovery, the pilot noted “different payload characteristics” from what the company experienced during testing.

“At his discretion, the pilot offloaded the landing pad onto the water. It was picked up by our ship to be transported to our factory,” explains Muriel Baker. “Upstairs is in excellent condition. »

Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab puts satellites into orbit for clients in a variety of industries. This mission, dubbed “There and Back Again”, was on 26And launch its electronic missile.

SpaceX pioneered the reuse of rocket modules, with a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket re-igniting its engines to return to Earth.

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