Rocket Lab Catches, then Releases, Returning Electron

Rocket Lab (NASDAQ:RKLB) yesterday launched its 26th Electron mission and deployed customers’ 34 satellites to a sun-synchronous orbit. Most notably, the “There and Back Again” mission had a secondary goal of plucking the returning Electron booster from the skies with a helicopter. 

The company’s Sikorsky S-92 did end up catching Electron, but offloaded the booster into the Pacific moments later. The S-92’s pilots “noticed different load characteristics than we’ve experienced in testing,” Rocket Lab’s Murielle Baker said on a livestream. 

  • After splashdown, the company loaded the booster onto a ship for transport back to the factory. 
  • Rocket Lab will continue to attempt mid-air recoveries in service of its long-term goals of reusability and rocket reflights. 

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck added via tweet: “Incredible catch by the recovery team, can’t begin to explain how hard that catch was and that the pilots got it. They did release it after hook up as they were not happy with the way it was flying, but no big deal, the rocket splashed down safely and the ship is loading it now.”

“The really tricky thing is not just re-entering, of course, but re-entering and targeting the rendezvous point with the helicopter,” Beck told Payload back in April. “We’re entering the Earth’s atmosphere at eight times the speed of sound on a ballistic trajectory, so it’s not trivial.” And, he added, that “owning a sweet-a** S-92…That’s a bucket list thing right there.” Editor’s note: agreed. 

Fun fact: Flightradar24 confirmed to Payload that Rocket Lab’s helicopter was the site’s second-most tracked craft yesterday. 

And finally…Watch what the recovery looked like from front-row seats