A Helicopter Captured a Rocket in Mid-Air in an Attempt to Stop It from Falling to Earth

Inflation is one of the biggest headaches a nation and its citizens can experience.

The COVID 19 pandemic has even worsened the situation, pushing more nations and millions of people to the edge of poverty.

But, for a billionaire like Elon Musk to be seriously affected by inflation could be rather difficult to imagine. And yet, Musk cited inflation as the reason for the increases in the prices of SpaceX launches and Starlink internet services.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

Nonetheless, from $67 million to the currently-adjusted price of $97 million per Falcon Heavy launch, SpaceX remains a practical choice compared to the launch costs of other companies and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which spends $157 million up to $500 million per launch depending on the size of the spacecraft.

Rocket Lab Gets Inspiration from Elon Musk’s SpaceX

Currently, SpaceX claims more than 60% of the global share in the commercial launch market. The reason why Musk’s launch prices are cheaper is that SpaceX uses reusable rockets.

Rocket Lab, which was founded in 2006, wants to imitate SpaceX in this aspect to be more competitive. The company has already achieved remarkable success in most of its services including spacecraft design and manufacturing, flight software, and satellite components. But, it wants to go further.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

They already have Electron, the second most frequently launch
US rocket for small satellites. This type of rocket has already attained 25 launches and deployed over 100 satellites for its clients from the government, commercial, and education sectors.

Now, Rocket Lab is raring to go further with its state-of-the-art technology.

Rocket Lab Makes History with World-First Capture of a Rocket by Helicopter

Finally, the day came to test their idea to cut costs on launches.

Rocket Lab launched one of its Electron rockets on a new mission dubbed, “There and Back Again,” from New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. The rocket was programmed to deliver 34 satellites to Earth’s orbit, with one of them designed to monitor the planet’s light pollution.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

A few minutes after the launch, the first and second stages of the Electron rocket separated with the latter continuing to its mission in the orbit. Meanwhile, the first stage started falling back to Earth at a speed of more than 8000 kilometers per hour and temperatures reaching 2400°C.

With a long cable, a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter was able to hook the booster’s parachute which helped to slow it down at around 35 kilometers per hour. However, the helicopter pilots observed “different load characteristics” compared to previous capture tests. Due to these unexpected anomalies, they were forced to let go of the booster into the ocean.

Photo: YouTube/New Scientist

A ship retrieved the rocket, but it must have already sustained damage from seawater.

“Trying to catch a rocket as it falls back to Earth is no easy feat,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, in a statement. “We’re absolutely threading the needle here.”

Nonetheless, the mid-air capture of Electron rocket by a helicopter still made history. And, next time, Rocket Lab may just succeed with its goal to save on launch costs by capturing its rockets from mid-air by helicopter and landing them safely on the ground to be reused.

Watch the awe-inspiring video!

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