Watch Rocket Lab try to catch a booster crashing into a helicopter today – TechCrunch 2022-04-29 15:27:34


Update: I got delayed again due to the weather, right after I clicked publish. Coming back on May 1!

Rocket Lab will take a shot at making history today with its attempt to catch an expendable booster helicopter in the air. This (mostly) unprecedented technology appears to be the safest and most efficient way a company can come up with, and it will be the first large-scale operation aimed at catching up with the first phase of the “there and back again” mission before it fades away. You can watch it live below this afternoon.

Don’t worry, it’s not just a hunting glove attached to a helicopter for the first stage to crash at terminal speed; They have a little more meaning.

The booster will do its job to get the upper stage and payload from the lower atmosphere, then separate and fall along a generally predictable trajectory, and at some point it will deploy a parachute – not too high or it might drift too far. Once its position and speed are confirmed, a nearby special purpose helicopter will take off towards its location.

Once he has the booster floating in his sight, he’ll move to stop it by grabbing some sort of handle that should float somewhat on top of the thing itself. We’re not sure exactly what the current mechanism is, this is the first time the full setup has been made public.

company Already proven to work with test article and different helicopter back in 2020, but they’ve never caught a new actual first stage since launch – and the logistics are no doubt a bit more complicated, although skyhook or whatever they call it that hasn’t changed much in the end. The mission description reads, “Several critical milestones must align perfectly to ensure a successful capture,” so don’t be surprised if there’s a last-minute cancellation.

A Sikorsky helicopter ready to take off with the Missile Lab crew nearby.

Image credits: rocket lab

The heavy-duty Sikorsky S-92 helicopter will need less than a thousand kilograms of spare lift, which actually seems quite light with all things considered. It is a testament to the focus on weight and efficiency in the Electron launch vehicle that the bird would likely grab it before it became too heavy to fly.

The mission itself, named (as you no doubt know) after the original title of Bilbo Baggins’ novel about his journey in “The Hobbit,” will take 34 satellites into orbit for a variety of clients: Alba OrbitalAnd Asterix AstronauticsAnd Aurora Payment Technologiesand E-Space and Unseenlabs.

The launch window opens at about 10:35 a.m. NZ local time (which is tomorrow for them), or 3:25 p.m. (today) PDT. The stream below will start about 20 minutes before that.

Rocket Lab notes that “we will attempt to show live footage of the helicopter captured during this mission, but expect some video loss due to the helicopter’s remote location during the capture attempt.” While that’s true, it’s also useful (as SpaceX has often shown) if things don’t go according to plan. But here’s hoping the flight and pick up go well.