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

Related Stories

FAA Space Chief Talks Mission Authorization, Part 450, Starship

The clock is ticking to get a legislative fix for mission authorization approved, according to Kelvin Coleman, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation. 


FAA Announces New Committee To Evaluate Launch Regs

The FAA is establishing a new committee to improve its launch licensing requirements after industry officials complained that the agency’s 2021 update made life more difficult.


Japan’s H3 Rocket Reaches Orbit on its Second Flight

The second launch is the charm for Japan’s next-gen heavy-lift H3 rocket.


IM-1 Lunar Lander is Set to Launch Wednesday Morning

SpaceX is slated to launch the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander aboard Falcon 9 early Valentine’s Day morning as it attempts to become the first commercial spacecraft to soft-land on the lunar surface and the first US vehicle to accomplish the feat since Apollo 17 in 1972.