Rocket Lab Electron booster mid-air recovery was successful

Rocket Lab is a company that is dedicated to launching small satellites. Like most private space companies have realized, capturing and reusing rocket stages is much cheaper than building rockets each time a launch occurs. SpaceX uses systems to have its first stage rockets land themselves at sea or on the ground. Rocket Lab is taking a different path and has successfully tested the system for mid-air recovery of its first stage rocket.

The mid-air capture test involved a pair of helicopters flying over the open ocean in New Zealand. One of the helicopters took to the skies with the Electron rocket first stage hanging underneath connected to a cable. Once to the test site, the helicopter dropped the rocket, and a parachute deployed to float the rocket towards the ocean surface.

The second helicopter, which had a long line hanging underneath, then maneuvered itself closer to the parachute. At around 5000 feet altitude, the second helicopter used a specially designed grappling hook to snag the parachute drogue line, on the first attempt, and prevent the rocket from splashing into the water. Once snagged, the helicopter carried the rocket back to dry land where it was left for recovery.

It did appear that the rocket stage swung wildly underneath the helicopter on the return trip to land. Rocket Lab says that the successful test is the latest in a series of milestones for the company as it works towards a reusable first-stage rocket. Previously, the company had successfully completed guided reentries of the electron First Stage.

New hardware and systems to enable recovery testing, including guidance and negation hardware, on those missions. One of the tests includes a stage that featured a reaction control system that oriented the rocket 180 degrees for its decent to keep it dynamically stable for reentry. The next phase recovery testing will have the company try to recover the Electron first stage after launch from the ocean.