Catch the falling rocket and return it to the shore …
On Tuesday (still Monday night in New York), Rocket Lab, a small company with small rockets, aims to accomplish an impressive feat with its latest launch from the east coast of New Zealand. After sending the payloads of 34 small satellites into orbit, the company uses a helicopter to catch a 39-foot-long exhausted rocket booster stage before the rocket flies into the Pacific Ocean.
If the booster is in good condition, Rocket Lab may refurbish the vehicle and use it for another orbit launch. So far, it’s a result achieved by only one company, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Here’s what you need to know:
When and how can you see the launch and catch attempts?
Rocket Lab is streaming live video of the mission On the YouTube channelOr you can see it in the player embedded above.
The launch was scheduled for 6:41 EST. However, the company temporarily put the lift-off on hold before changing the new launch time to 6:49 pm Eastern Standard Time. Then the countdown resumed.
Why is Rocket Lab trying to catch a booster?
In the space launch industry, rockets were expensive disposable disposables. Reusing them helps reduce the cost of transporting the payload into space and can accelerate the pace of launch by reducing the number of rockets that need to be manufactured.
“80% of the total cost of a rocket is in the first stages, both in terms of materials and labor,” said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, in an interview on Friday.
SpaceX has pioneered a new era of reusable rockets, now regularly landing the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket and flying it many times. The second stage of Falcon 9 (and Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket) is still abandoned and usually burns out when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX’s next-generation super rocket, called Starship, is completely reusable. Competitors like Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are developing rockets that are at least partially reusable, as are Chinese companies.
NASA’s Space Shuttle was also partially reusable, but it required extensive and costly work after each flight and did not fulfill its operational promises of an airliner.
How does the catch operation work?
After launch, the booster will separate from the second stage of the Electron rocket at an altitude of about 50 mph and accelerate to 5,200 mph during the descent.
Thruster’s system that emits cold gas orients the booster when it falls, and thermal protection protects the booster from temperatures above 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Atmospheric friction acts as a brake. Approximately 7 minutes and 40 seconds after lift-off, the booster’s falling speed drops to less than twice the speed of sound. At that point, a small parachute called a drogue unfolds, adding drag. The larger the main parachute, the slower the booster will slow down.
A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter hovering in an area of altitude 5,000 to 10,000 feet encounters a booster in the air and drags the line with a grappling hook across the line between the drogue and the main parachute.
rear Once you catch the booster, the helicopter will either carry it to a Rocket Lab ship or until it returns to land.