Update for 12 p.m. ET: Rocket Lab is now targeting 1:27 p.m. EDT (5:27 p.m. GMT) for today’s launch of an Electron thruster and its attempt to recover the thruster by helicopter. The above livestream will begin approximately 15 minutes before takeoff.
Rocket Lab will launch a satellite into orbit and attempt to catch a falling booster with a helicopter on Friday (November 4), and you can watch the action live.
Rocket Lab plans to launch a mission called “Catch Me If You Can” from its New Zealand site on Friday, during a 75-minute window that opens at 1:27 p.m. EDT (1727 GMT; 06:15 Nov 4 New Zealand local time).
You can watch it live here on Space.com, courtesy of Rocket Lab, or directly through the company (opens in a new tab). Coverage will begin 20 minutes before takeoff.
The main focus on Friday is to launch a research satellite for the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA) using a Electron rocket, but most viewers will probably be more interested in a secondary goal – the recovery of the Electron’s free-falling first stage.
Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photos)
Rocket Lab aims to rip the thruster out of the sky with a helicopter, a strategy designed to prevent the vehicle from being submerged in corrosive seawater and to facilitate its return to dry land for analysis and possible reuse.
The 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron, a small satellite launcher with 31 missions to date, is currently a fully expendable vehicle. Recovering and reusing the first stage would allow Rocket Lab to increase its theft rate and reduce costs, company representatives said.
Electron is too small to perform powered vertical landings, as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters do; it does not have enough fuel left after launch for such maneuvers. So Rocket Lab decided to go with the helicopter, which grabs Electron’s parachute line with a hook as the thruster descends.
Rocket Lab has made progress toward its reuse goal. For example, he has already carried out a helicopter recovery, during a mission in May this year called “There and back”. (Rocket Lab likes to give its flights playful names, as you may have noticed.)
During this May mission, the helicopter – a Sikorsky S-92 – managed to hook the Electron but accidentally dropped it in the drink shortly afterwards.
Rocket Lab fished the rocket out of the sea and brought it ashore by boat. The company analyzed the booster in flight, then refurbished and tested one of its nine Rutherford engines, with promising results.
“The remanufactured engine has passed all of the same rigorous acceptance tests we perform for every launch engine, including 200 seconds of engine fire and multiple restarts,” company representatives wrote in the press kit. from “Catch Me If You Can”, which you can find here (opens in a new tab). Tests showed the engine produced full thrust and “performed at the same level as a newly built Rutherford engine”, they added.
Still, Rocket Lab would rather keep their boosters out of the water. On “Catch Me If You Can”, the company aims to keep the captured booster secure under the helicopter for the entire flight to its Auckland production complex.
The helicopter grab will take place just under 19 minutes after takeoff, if all goes as planned on “Catch Me If You Can.” The satellite, dubbed MATS (“Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy”), will be deployed about 41 minutes later.
MATS “is the basis of SNSA’s science mission to study atmospheric waves and better understand how the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere interacts with winds and weather patterns closer to the ground,” Rocket Lab wrote in the filing. mission press releases.
MATS was originally to be launched atop a Russian rocket, but SNSA and its main contractor for the satellite, OHB Sweden AB, canceled that deal. (opens in a new tab) after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rebooked on an Electron.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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