Rocket Lab will use a helicopter to catch a falling rocket booster

New Zealand spaceflight company Rocket Lab is planning to catch the first-stage of one of its Electron rockets as it falls back to Earth shortly after launch on Friday.

It’s only the second time it’s attempted the feat, which involves a helicopter, a strong cable, and a grappling hook. Oh, and one very skillful pilot.

Once secured, the booster will be flown back to base, refurbished, and used for another flight, enabling launch costs to be dramatically reduced.

Rival spaceflight company SpaceX has been reusing its first-stage Falcon 9 boosters for years, but instead of catching them, it lands them upright on the ground or on a barge stationed in the ocean.

Rocket Lab released an animation this week showing precisely how it plans to catch the booster:

Catch Me If You Can? Challenge accepted. In two days' time, here's how we'll attempt to catch Electron with a helicopter as the rocket returns from space.

More mission info: https://t.co/Uc9nTRitaa pic.twitter.com/XgPRl5x7r2

— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) November 2, 2022

Rocket Lab’s first attempt at this tricky procedure took place six months ago, and although the helicopter managed to grab hold of the booster as it floated back to Earth with the aid of a parachute, it was quickly released as the the booster’s weight and movement began to affect the aircraft’s flight performance.

Friday’s mission, aptly called Catch Me If You Can, is scheduled t0 launch from Rocket Lab’s facility in New Zealand at 1:15 p.m. ET on Friday, November 4 (Saturday at 6:15 a.m. local time).

Rocket Lab usually livestreams the start of its missions, though it’s not clear if it’ll include a live feed of the attempt to catch the booster shortly after launch. Last time it released the helicopter footage later in the day.

While many folk will be mainly interested in seeing if the helicopter can keep hold of the booster and bring it back to base, the mission also has some serious work to complete, specifically, the deployment into orbit of a science research satellite for the Swedish National Space Agency.

If you’re interested in watching Rocket Lab’s livestream on Friday, then check out its YouTube channel shortly before launch.

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