Rocket Lab is about to make its first attempt at catching a falling booster shortly after launch.
The spaceflight company’s 26th mission — called There And Back Again — will take place at Rocket Lab’s launch facility in New Zealand and could get underway as early as Wednesday, April 27 (Thursday local time).
Previous missions have seen Rocket Lab fishing the booster from the sea, but as part of efforts to create a reusable system aimed at cutting launch costs, this time it plans to catch the first-stage of its workhorse Electron rocket as it falls to Earth in a parachute-assisted descent.
“Like previous recovery missions, Electron’s first stage will undertake a series of complex maneuvers designed to enable it to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric re-entry,” Rocket Lab said in a post on its website. “Electron will be equipped with a heat shield to help protect the stage’s nine Rutherford engines and a parachute to slow Electron down in order for Rocket Lab’s customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch the stage as it returns.”
The mission will also deploy 34 satellites to a sun synchronous orbit for a number of commercial customers as Rocket Lab continues to build out a service similar to that offered by rival company SpaceX.
This week’s livestream will show the launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket and the deployment of the satellites. It will also show its helicopter attempting to grab the first-stage booster as it falls to Earth. Rocket Lab noted that viewers may experience some video loss due to the remote location of the capture site some 150 miles off the New Zealand coast.
If the effort is successful, the helicopter will fly the captured component to land where Rocket Lab can assess its condition with a view to using it in a future mission.
Rocket Lab’s launch window for its There And Back Again mission opens at 5:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, April 27 (9:30 a.m. local time on Thursday).
Weather conditions permitting, and barring any last-minute technical issues, the Electron rocket will lift off from Pad A at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.
You can watch a livestream of the launch and the attempt to catch the booster using the video player that will appear at the top of this page closer to launch. Rocket Lab’s website will also livestream the same footage.
We will endeavor to update this page with any changes to the launch schedule. Alternatively, check Rocket Lab’s Twitter account for the latest information regarding the upcoming mission.
The company succeeded in catching a dummy booster in a practice run two years ago. Now all eyes on whether it can achieve the same success with a real booster later this week.