Rocket Lab called off the planned launch and recovery of an Electron booster Friday, preferring to wait for better wind and cloud cover conditions in a few days from now. The next opportunity to launch the mission from New Zealand is Sunday.
“We don’t usually give the mother a little power over launch timing, but for the first helicopter catch we want to line up the best possible conditions. “In time, we’ll narrow those bounds.”
The next launch opportunity is Sunday during a window opening at 6:35 pm EDT (2235 GMT) and closing at 8:40 pm EDT (0040 GMT). The window opens at 10:35 am local time in New Zealand on Monday.
Rocket Lab has delayed the launch of its next mission
“Just like our weather tolerances for launch have increased over time, so will our tolerance for weather in the recovery zone,” Rocket Lab said. “For this first one though, we want to focus on the catch and supporting operations.
Thanks to relatively calm seas, Rocket Lab has modified its helicopter – after catching the rocket – to deliver the 39-foot-tall (12-meter) carbon fiber booster stage onto a recovery vessel for transportation back to an onshore facility for inspections. The company originally planned for the helicopter to ferry the rocket back to shore with the booster suspended underneath it.
The electron rocket will aim to deliver to orbit 34 small satellites from commercial operators Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space, Unseenlabs, and Swarm Technologies.
While the rocket’s second stage and kick stage continue into orbit with the commercial payloads, the booster will arc to apogee, or peak altitude, then re-enter the atmosphere for a scorching hot descent. Rocket Lab has added a new shiny thermal coating to the booster’s carbon fiber airframe to better protect it from the heating of re-entry.
Once back in the thick, low atmosphere the booster will deploy a parachute and a helicopter will swoop in to catch the rocket, aim to snag a parachute line with a long boom.
Rocket Lab’s booster reuse program, following three rocket recoveries from the Pacific Ocean. Those splashdowns under parachutes were designed to gather data on the structural loads, heating, and deceleration of the Electron booster encounters during re-entry and descent.
Rocket Lab’s recovery concept. A customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter will attempt to snare the carbon fiber booster stage suspended under a parachute around 170 miles (280 kilometers) off the coast of New Zealand.
Catching the booster in mid-air will prevent it from reaching the ocean, eliminating the risk of hardware corrosion or damage from splashdown in salt water, and easing refurbishment work required to make the rocket suitable to launch again.
The mid-air recovery also eliminates the need for the booster to carry a propulsive landing like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, which sacrifices payload lift capability for the ability to return to Earth intact.
Rocket Lab wants to reuse Electron boosters, easing pressure on the company factors to sustain a higher launch rate. The Electron is sized to solar small payloads into orbit. Rocket Lab is working on a heavier next-generation rocket that will also be mostly reusable.
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