Rocket Lab to Attempt Next Mid-Air Helicopter Rocket Catch

Rocket Lab to Attempt Next Mid-Air Helicopter Rocket Catch

Rocket Lab USA, one of the leading launch and space systems companies, confirmed that it will attempt to catch an Electron rocket with a helicopter as it returns to Earth from space during the Company’s next launch. 

Rocket Lab’s 32nd Electron launch, the “Catch Me If You Can” mission, is scheduled to launch from Pad B at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 during a launch window opening on November 04, UTC. Electron will carry a science research satellite by space systems provider OHB Sweden for the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA). The Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy (MATS) satellite is the basis for the SNSA’s science mission to investigate atmospheric waves and better understand how the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere interacts with wind and weather patterns closer to the ground. MATS was originally due to fly on a Russian launch service before the mission was manifested on Rocket Lab’s Electron. 

“Catch Me If You Can” will see Rocket Lab attempt to capture the rocket’s first stage mid-air with a helicopter as it returns from space. Using a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch and secure the rocket by its parachute line, Rocket Lab will bring the captured stage back to its Auckland Production Complex to be processed and assessed by engineers and technicians for possible re-use. 

This Electron recovery effort follows the catch of an Electron first stage during Rocket Lab’s first helicopter recovery attempt on the “There And Back Again” launch in May, and the recovery attempt for this mission will follow the same concept of operations as the previous launch. 

Rocket Lab CEO and founder, Peter Beck, says: “Our first helicopter catch only a few months ago proved we can do what we set out to do with Electron, and we’re eager to get the helicopter back out there and advance our rocket reusability even further by bringing back a dry stage for the first time.” 

“Catch Me If You Can” launch details:

  • Launch Window Opens: November 04, UTC
  • Launch vehicle: Electron
  • Customer: Swedish National Space Agency through OHB Sweden
  • Launch site: Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, Pad B
  • Orbit: 585km circular Earth orbit
  • Payload: MATS

 Recovery Mission Profile:

  • Shortly before lift-off, the customized Sikorsky S-92 recovery helicopter will deploy to the capture zone at sea, approximately 160 nautical miles off New Zealand’s Banks Peninsula.
  • Once launched, Electron’s first and second stages will separate at approximately T+2:32 minutes into the mission. The MATS payload will continue to orbit onboard the rocket’s second stage while Electron’s first stage descends back to Earth. At this point in the mission, Electron’s return is expected to reach speeds of up to 8,300km (5,150 miles) per hour and temperatures of up to 2,400 degrees C (4,352 F).
  • At approximately T+7:20 minutes after lift-off, Electron’s first parachute will deploy followed shortly after by the rocket’s main parachute. The double deployment of parachutes helps to slow the returning first stage to 0.4% of its top speed during descent: from 8,300km per hour to just 36km per hour.
  • As Electron enters the capture zone, Rocket Lab’s recovery helicopter will match the rocket’s speed and descent from above, attempting to secure the trailing parachute engagement line to the helicopter via a hook at the end of a long line.
  • Once captured and secured, Electron will be transported back to Rocket Lab’s Auckland Production Complex. There, technicians will receive and prepare the stage for inspection to assess its suitability for re-use.

Click here to learn about Launch Vehicles from Rocket Lab.


Publisher: SatNow

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BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
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BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019

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Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017

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Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018

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Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014

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Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013