Rocket Lab To Attempt Booster Capture

Credit: Rocket Lab

COLORADO SPRINGS—Rocket Lab will attempt its first midair capture of a returning Electron booster later this month, a key step in the company’s quest to turn what was an expendable small satellite launcher into a partly reusable booster. 

The mission, slated for the second half of April, is a 34-satellite commercial rideshare that includes three prototypes for E-Space, a startup founded by space communications entrepreneur Greg Wyler.

The launch, slated for no earlier than April 19, will lift off from the company’s New Zealand spaceport. Following first stage burnout and separation, Rocket Lab will attempt to snare the returning booster with a customized twin-engine Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.

“We’re excited to enter this next phase of the Electron recovery program,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. 

“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. 

“Trying to catch a rocket as it falls back to Earth is no easy feat—we’re absolutely threading the needle here—but pushing the limits with such complex operations is in our DNA. We expect to learn a tremendous amount from the mission as we work toward the ultimate goal of making Electron the first reusable orbital small sat launcher and providing our customers with even more launch availability,” Beck said.