Earlier today, Rocket Lab launched its ‘There and Back Again’ mission. This was the first Electron launch to feature an air-based recovery, using a helicopter to catch the first stage that was descending under parachute. While the catch seemed good, and Rocket Lab confirmed success, groans heard from mission control made it clear that all was not quite as expected.
While the pilot maneuvered the helicopter and was able to hook the booster, the booster was released from the helicopter. The load on the helicopter was different than the pilot had expected and opted to release the booster. The booster’s parachute then reinflated on descent.
The booster splashed down softly in the water and is set for an ocean recovery, like Electron’s previous recovered missions.
While this wasn’t a perfect success, it proves the pilot is capable of hooking the first stage for recovery, and the booster is still not a total loss, being recovered after splashdown and providing the company with invaluable data. With adjustments made for future launches, hopefully mid-air recoveries will become the norm for Rocket Lab missions in the not-so-distant future.