Skip to main content

Rocket Lab’s booster catch didn’t go entirely according to plan

Rocket Lab achieved a world’s first on Monday when its helicopter caught a rocket booster as it fell from the sky. However, moments after the catch, the booster was released and splashed down in the sea.

The company performed the feat during its There And Back Again mission to deploy 34 satellites into orbit for a range of private companies.

A livestream of the mission showed the first-stage booster as it returned to Earth shortly after launch, its descent slowed by a parachute. The video (below) also captured the moment the grappling hook on Rocket Lab’s customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter successfully snagged the parachute’s drogue line.

Rocket Lab - 'There And Back Again' Launch

A Rocket Lab spokesperson said that after successfully catching the booster, the pilot noticed that the extra weight was affecting the helicopter’s flying performance more than expected. So instead of sticking with the original plan to carry the booster to a recovery vessel, the pilot decided to offload it for a successful splashdown. It was then plucked from the water by a waiting Rocket Lab team.

“Incredible catch by the recovery team, can’t begin to explain how hard that catch was and that the pilots got it,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted a short time after the mission ended. “They did release it after hookup 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.”

Catching the first stage of its Electron rocket instead of letting it land in water will allow the company to reuse the booster, enabling it to cut mission costs, increase the frequency of launches, and reduce the amount of waste materials. If the rocket has remained intact following Monday’s splashdown, there’s still a chance that parts of it can be reused.

Rocket Lab has spent several years planning for Monday’s catch attempt, using a dummy rocket booster to rehearse the process. The partial success will give the company hope that it can now refine the process to make it a regular part of its Electron launch activities.

Rocket Lab, which was founded by Beck in 2006, later confirmed that all of the satellites were successfully deployed in what was the company’s 26th orbital mission.

While it aims to perfect the rocket-catching process with its two-stage Electon rocket, with its next-generation Neutron rocket, it’s planning to land the first-stage booster upright in a similar way to SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
How to watch Rocket Lab’s first U.S. launch today
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket on the launchpad.

UPDATE: Strong winds have caused Rocket Lab to delay the launch. It's now out of the launch window for 2022 and so will make another attempt to begin the mission in early 2023.

Rocket Lab is about to perform its first-ever launch from U.S. soil in what will be a major step forward for the 16-year-old spaceflight company.

Read more
SpaceX launches booster for 11th time, but this time it didn’t return
spacex launch booster 11th time falcon9

SpaceX sent one of its first-stage boosters skyward for the 11th time on Tuesday evening. However, unlike its 10 previous flights, this time it didn't return.

The mission launched from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 9:57 p.m. ET, lighting up the night sky as the Falcon 9 rocket roared toward space.

Read more
Chinese rocket booster falls uncontrolled into the Pacific Ocean
A Chinese Long March-5B rocket launches from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan province, carrying the space station module Wentian on July 24, 2022.

A Chinese rocket booster has made an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere for the second time this year. Pieces of the booster from a Long March 5B rocket were confirmed to be making a re-entry by the U.S. Space Command on Friday, November 4, and fell into the Pacific Ocean. It was fortunate that the booster fell into the ocean and did no damage, as observers were worried that it could have hit a wide range of regions from Northern and Central America to Africa or Australia.

Debris from a previous Long March 5B rocket made an uncontrolled descent in July this year, with some debris reportedly landing close to villages in Malaysia and Indonesia, but no reports of injuries were filed. This time, the booster was from a rocket used to launch the third module of China's new space station on October 31.

Read more