Rocket Lab will refuse to “catch” stages

Rocket Lab is considering the possibility of abandoning the “catching” of the stages descending by parachute with the help of a helicopter. This was announced by the company’s executive director Peter Beck.

Attempts to catch the first Electron stage

Back in 2019, Rocket Lab announced its intention to reuse the first stages of its rockets. For this purpose, it was planned to apply the technology of air pick-up. The idea was that the stage descending by parachute would be picked up by a helicopter and then returned to land. Thus, the company’s specialists would be able to exclude its contact with seawater, which could have a harmful effect on the components of rocket technology.

Rehearsal of the operation to catch the first stage of the Electron rocket in the air. Source: Rocket Lab

The first catch attempt occurred in May 2022. The helicopter pilot managed to hook the stage, but after a while he had to drop it into the water. The second attempt was to take place in November. But the company abandoned it due to the loss of telemetry during the entry of the stage into the atmosphere. As a result, it was brought to the Pacific Ocean.

Water landing instead of picking up in the air

After conducting a technical analysis of the flooded stages, experts came to the conclusion that, in general, they withstand this procedure well. A significant part of the components retains their integrity and are ready for reuse without the need for additional restoration work.

The first stage of the Electron rocket landed in the ocean. Source: Rocket Lab

Because of this, the company began to lean towards the idea of completely abandoning the catching of stages in favor of their landing on parachutes. Currently, specialists are preparing a new mission, during which the first stage of Rocket Lab will be brought back to the Pacific Ocean. It will receive additional protection from water, which should increase the safety of the main components and facilitate its reuse.

According to Peter Beck, from a financial point of view, the cost of retrofitting the stage and using the helicopter are about the same. However, according to the latest estimates of experts, the chances of successfully picking up the stage are 50%, and for flooding — 60% – 70%. Therefore, if during the upcoming mission the Electron stage makes a successful landing, most likely the company will abandon new attempts to pick them up by air.

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