AP

New Zealand rocket caught but then dropped by helicopter

May 2, 2022, 10:50 AM | Updated: 11:06 pm

In this image supplied by Rocket Lab, the Electron rocket blasts off for its "There And Back Again"...

In this image supplied by Rocket Lab, the Electron rocket blasts off for its "There And Back Again" mission from their launch pad on the Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. The California-based company regularly launches 18-meter (59-foot) rockets from the remote Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand to deliver satellites into space. (Rocket Lab via AP

(59-foot)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Using a helicopter to catch a falling rocket is such a complex task that Peter Beck likens it to a “supersonic ballet.”

Rocket Lab, the company that Beck founded, partially pulled off the feat Tuesday as it pushes to make its small Electron rockets reusable. But after briefly catching the spent rocket, a helicopter crew was quickly forced to let it go again for safety reasons, and it fell into the Pacific Ocean where it was collected by a waiting boat.

The California-based company regularly launches 18-meter (59-foot) rockets from the remote Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand to deliver satellites into space.

On Tuesday, the Electron rocket was launched in the morning and sent 34 satellites into orbit before the main booster section began falling to Earth. Its descent was slowed to about 10 meters (33 feet) per second by a parachute.

That’s when the helicopter crew sprang into action, dangling a long line with a hook below the helicopter to snag the booster’s parachute lines. The crew caught the rocket but the load on the helicopter exceeded the parameters from tests and simulations, so they jettisoned it again.

The roller coaster of emotions was caught in a livestream of the event, with people at mission control cheering and clapping as the rocket was caught, only to let out a collective gasp and sigh about 20 seconds later.

Still, Beck hailed the mission as a success, saying that almost everything went to plan and that the unexpected load issue was a tiny detail which would soon be fixed, a “nothing in the scheme of things.”

“They got a great catch. They just didn’t like the way the load was feeling,” Beck said of the helicopter crew in a conference call after the launch.

He said a detailed analysis should reveal the reasons for the discrepancy in the load characteristics. He said he still hoped the company could salvage some or all of the spent rocket booster, despite it getting dunked in salt water which they’d hoped to avoid.

Rocket Lab named its latest mission “There And Back Again” — a reference to the movie trilogy “The Hobbit” which was filmed in New Zealand.

The company described the brief midair capture at 1,980 meters (6,500 feet) by the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter as a milestone. It says making its rockets reusable will enable the company to increase the number of launches it makes and reduce costs.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company designed the first reusable orbital rocket, the Falcon 9.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Image: O.J. Simpson attends his parole hearing at Lovelock Correctional Center July 20, 2017 in Lov...

Associated Press

O.J. Simpson, fallen football hero acquitted of murder in ‘trial of the century,’ dies at 76

O.J. Simpson, the former NFL star and Hollywood actor who was acquitted of charges he killed his ex-wife and her friend has died at 76.

2 days ago

Southwest Airlines boeing...

Associated Press

An engine cover on a Southwest Airlines plane rips off, forcing the flight to return to Denver

A Southwest Airlines jet, a Boeing 737, returned to Denver Sunday morning after the engine cover fell off and struck the wing flap during takeoff.

5 days ago

Image: The late Careaga family....

Associated Press

3 found guilty in 2017 quadruple killing of Washington family

A jury has found three men guilty of killing a family in Washington in 2017, crimes detectives asserted happened over drugs and money.

7 days ago

The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exc...

Associated Press

Boeing’s CEO got compensation worth nearly $33M last year but lost a $3M bonus

Boeing's CEO got around $33 million in compensation, nearly all of it in stock awards, but his stock payout for this year will be cut.

7 days ago

Photo: Players and staff on the Utah bench react toward the end of a second-round college basketbal...

Associated Press

Police say use of racial slur clearly audible as they investigate racist incidents toward Utah team

Police say they've found an audio recording in which the use of a racial slur directed toward the Utah basketball team was clearly audible.

8 days ago

Photo: The Boeing Co. logo is displayed outside of company offices....

David Koenig, The Associated Press

Boeing pays Alaska Airlines $160 million in compensation for blowout of panel during flight

Alaska Airlines said Boeing has paid the carrier $160 million in "initial compensation" for a panel that blew out of a Boeing 737 Max 9.

8 days ago

New Zealand rocket caught but then dropped by helicopter