Sikorsky S-92 To Recover Rocket's First Stage in Midair

 - April 19, 2022, 10:59 AM
A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter will be used in an attempt to recover Rocket Lab's reusable Electron satellite booster mid-air following the stage one and two separation minutes after launch. (Photo: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab plans to use a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to recover the first stage of a reusable satellite launch vehicle in midair. The recovery of the Electron launch vehicle's first stage could occur as early as Friday. Rocket Lab has fitted the highly-modified helicopter with auxiliary fuel tanks and plans to capture the parachuted launch stage with a line hook at a location approximately 150 miles from its Pad A launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.  

The mission profile calls for the helicopter to be dispatched to the capture zone one hour before liftoff. First and second-stage separation will occur 2.5 minutes after liftoff, with the first stage falling back to Earth, and its main chute deploying at 19,500 feet, slowing the stage’s descent rate to 19 knots as it enters the capture zone where the helicopter will attempt to snag the parachute with the hook and then return the stage to land, where it will be evaluated for reuse. 

“We’re excited to enter this next phase of the Electron recovery program,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “We’ve conducted many successful helicopter captures with replica stages, carried out extensive parachute tests, and successfully recovered Electron’s first stage from the ocean during our 16th, 20th, and 22nd missions. Now it’s time to put it all together for the first time and pluck Electron from the skies. We expect to learn a tremendous amount from the mission as we work toward the ultimate goal of making Electron the first reusable orbital smallsat launcher and providing our customers with even more launch availability.”

This will be the 26th launch of Electron and the mission will carry 34 payloads from commercial operators, including Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Unseenlabs, and Swarm Technologies via global launch services provider Spaceflight Inc.