Rocket Lab successfully captured the first stage of the Electron rocket

On May 3, Rocket Lab carried out the 26th launch of the Electron rocket. As part of the There and Back Again mission, it successfully launched 34 satellites from various commercial customers into Earth orbit.

Catching the Electron rocket stage descending by parachute (frame from the broadcast). Source: Rocket Lab

But the mission’s increased attention was not caused by the payload being put into orbit. The fact is that Rocket Lab for the first time tested in practice the technology of the return of the first stage. Within its framework, the modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter was brought to a position over the Pacific Ocean. Its goal was to pick up the first stage of the Electron rocket descending by parachute with the help of a special hook, with its subsequent delivery to land.

Despite a lot of rehearsals and training, until the last, the success of the operation left some doubts. But Rocket Lab has shown that the chosen scheme is workable. The helicopter crew successfully picked up the stage that returned from space.

Unfortunately, not everything went well. Some time after the capture of the stage, the helicopter pilot noticed that the load characteristics were different from the indicators recorded during testing. Therefore, he decided to release the stage into the water, where it was then picked up by the Rocket Lab ship.

Loading of the Electron stage returned from space to the ship. Source: Rocket Lab

According to the head of Rocket Lab Peter Beck, the stage is in excellent condition. In the near future, it will be studied by the company’s specialists to assess the potential of its reuse. Perhaps they will also make changes to the air pick-up system, which will avoid the repetition of such situations.

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