Using a helicopter to pick up a falling missile is a very complex task, and Peter Beck likened it to “hypersonic ballet.”
Rocket Lab, the company founded by Peck, achieved somewhat of that feat on Tuesday as it prompted the reuse of its small electronic rockets. But after a brief capture of the spent missile, the helicopter crew was forced to release it again for security reasons, and it sank in the Pacific Ocean, where it was taken by a waiting boat.
The California-based company continues to launch 18-meter (59-foot) rockets from the remote Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand to launch satellites.
On Tuesday, the electron rocket launched in the morning and put 34 satellites into orbit before the main booster area began to fall to Earth. His landing was reduced to a speed of about 10 meters (33 feet) per second by a parachute.
That’s when the helicopter crew hung in a long line with a hook under the helicopter to block the roof lines of the crane. The crew picked up the missile, but the helicopter’s pilot exceeded the standard of tests and simulations, so they dropped it again.
A live broadcast of the event recorded a vortex of emotion, with applause from those in the control center as the missile was captured, followed by a collective sigh some 20 seconds later.
However, Beck praised the success of the work, saying that almost everything went according to plan, that the unexpected loading problem was a small detail and that it would be fixed soon, and that “there was nothing in the plan”.
“They made a great catch. They didn’t like the feeling of being pregnant,” Beck said in a post-conference call about the helicopter crew.
He said a detailed analysis should reveal the reasons for the discrepancy in the payload characteristics. He said they were still confident that they could save some or all of the missiles the company had spent, even if they were submerged in the salt water they intended to avoid.
Rocket Lab called its latest work “There and Back Again”, which refers to the trilogy “The Hobbit” filmed in New Zealand.
The company described the landing of the plane at 6,500 feet (1,980 meters) by the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter as a milestone. He says making its missiles reusable will allow the company to increase the number of launches and reduce costs.
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