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On November 18, Rocket Lab performed the 22nd launch of their reusable Electron rocket. The craft descended using a parachute, splashed down, and could successfully be retrieved. Within 80 minutes of liftoff, the company's engineers had begun securing the booster.
While 200 nautical miles offshore, the descent was successfully tracked by Rocket Labs' recovery helicopter. This success prompted them to announce on November 23 that they'll attempt something rather spectacular for the next launch.
"As one of only two launch companies to repeatedly recover orbital-class boosters from space, we’re ready to take the final step and begin collecting them mid-air with a helicopter to race us closer to launch, catch, repeat with the world’s first reusable, orbital-class commercial small rocket. A reusable Electron means more rockets and launch opportunities for better access to space for satellite customers, and I’m proud of the Rocket Lab team for continuously pushing the industry forward as the leaders in dedicated small launch", says Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO in a statement.
The idea is for the recovery helicopter to capture the descending booster mid-air and then fly it to the mainland. Before that happens, both vehicles will be slightly altered: the helicopter will be fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks and the spacecraft itself will receive improved heat shielding, and the parachute will include an engagement line for the helicopter to catch on to. Plans are for this method of recovery to be used during flights in the first half of 2022.
Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 and offers services that include launch services, spacecraft, and satellite components. Over the years, they have deployed 105 satellites over 22 launches. Their spacecraft consists of the Electron launch vehicle and the Photon spacecraft.