Rocket Lab aims to catch Electron rocket booster mid-air with a helicopter next year

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Fresh on the heels of Rocket Lab’s third successful booster recovery, CEO Peter Beck said the next step would be to attempt to capture the booster in mid-air using a helicopter within the first half of next year.

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Rocket Lab retrieved the first stage of its Electron launcher during a sea splash last week, when the rocket carried two BlackSky geospatial imaging satellites into low Earth orbit. The company deployed a helicopter near the splashdown area during that mission, but only for reconnaissance purposes. The ultimate goal of the company’s reusable program has always been to truly recover boosters in mid-air, and now it’s almost on them.

Beck told reporters on Tuesday that the main work to be done between now and then is helicopter preparation. The aircraft that will be used for the mid-air capture effort will be significantly heavier, and will have a much higher payload capacity than last week’s launch (the first stage weighs around 980 kg).

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“The other part of it is slotting that flight and with a very busy manifest,” he said. “A priority is always to make sure we deliver to our customers on time. So that is the next thing, but we are certainly going to have that flight within the first half of next year or as soon as practicable. Let’s hope.”

The company is planning several commercial flights between now and a mid-air recovery effort, but these will be non-recovery missions. Beck said the next big learning opportunity for Rocket Lab will be when it’s able to capture the booster and dry it at the factory.

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Looking to next year, Beck said he expects a busy year for the company as a response to the ongoing coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand, which restricted Rocket Lab’s launch cadence throughout this year Is. While he did not specify how many launches the company might launch next year, he said that he expects 2022 to be the busiest year for the company so far.

To develop,

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