4 Nov 2022

Rocket Lab hoping to repeat mid-air helicopter rocket catch

2:17 pm on 4 November 2022
A helicopter carrying a big cylinder on a line.

A helicopter carrying a Rocket Lab payload. Photo: Supplied/Rocket Lab

A New Zealand aerospace manufacturer will look to catch a falling rocket in mid-air this weekend as it works towards producing reusable rockets.

Rocket Lab hope to return a booster to dry land in Auckland tomorrow by slowing it with parachutes and catching it with a helicopter.

Rocket Lab spokesperson Morgan Bailey said it had learnt a lot from its first test in May and if successful, it would mean the company could reuse rockets instead of building them from scratch.

"The weather is a little touch-and-go for helicopter operations, but we do have a 14-day launch window. So we've got lots of backup opportunities to make sure the weather does play ball with us eventually."

She said it was easier to explain in principle what was expected to happen.

"After the rocket launches, a large part of it, the largest part of the rocket, which is called the first stage, eventually starts to come back to Earth. Now it is travelling at several thousand kilometres an hour. We release a series of parachutes to help slow it down and then that brings it down to about 10 metres per second, which is no problem at all for the helicopter.

"We have a helicopter waiting in a recovery area so ... a hook trailing from underneath the helicopter that hook catches onto the parachute line, deflates the parachute then flies off into the sunset all going well."

She said it would take place several hundred kilometres out at sea, but the public could view a webcast of the helicopter as it tried to catch the rocket.

A live stream of the mission will run from 6.15am on Saturday.

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