Rocket Lab successfully used a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch a falling electron booster in mid-air, but things didn’t go entirely as planned. The helicopter had to drop the rocket into the ocean, but this test did prove that their method of using parachutes and a long cable hanging from a helicopter is a viable option for catching the booster.
This helicopter test came after the Long Beach, California-based company launched 34 satellites into orbit at 10:50 a.m. in New Zealand before the four-story-tall Electron booster stage fell back through Earth’s atmosphere and deployed a series of parachutes to slow down. The helicopter cable snagged onto the booster’s capture line, but the pilots were forced to release the rocket after noticing ‘different load characteristics’ than previous tests. Their next milestone is to bring the rocket booster back to land or a barge after capturing it. Or, they could also program an autonomous helicopter for the job.
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For our first mid-air helicopter capture, we want ideal weather conditions so we can focus on the catch. It demands extreme precision. Several critical milestones need to align perfectly to ensure a successful capture,” said Rocket Lab.