Rocket Lab is going to try and catch a rocket with this helicopter

This Sikorsky S-92 is going to be used for the first time to capture the first stage of Rocket Lab’s ‘Electron’ rocket for their “Their and back Again” mission.

SpaceX gets a lot of worthy attention for what they’ve done to make their Falcon rocket reusable with their fancy drone ship, but that’s perhaps not the only way to do it.

Photo: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab is an American-based company that’s been launching smaller, lightweight rockets to carry smaller satellites/CubeSats into orbit from their facility in New Zealand. This is great service because the cost of sending even small objects into space is high.

Think of Rocket Lab as the Lotus to SpaceX’s Ferrari.

And like SpaceX, Rocket Lab has to contend with the reality that throwing away your first stage after every flight is wasteful and costly. While the SpaceX solution is amazing to watch, it is also complex and expensive.

Rocket Lab’s approach is on the same scale as everything else they do and, rather than try to guide the rocket down to a waiting barge, they will attempt to slow the spent rocket’s descent using a parachute and then nab the parachute using a big, twin-engine Sikorsky helicopter. No one has done this before and the skill required is immense.

Here’s a video of them testing the procedure:

Note that when the first stage drops it’ll be traveling at 5,150 miles per hour, which is too fast for interception. The goal is to slow the rocket down to a still-brisk 22.3 mph so the helicopter can intercept it before it hits the water.

If they can catch the rocket they’ll drop it off onshore and the Rocket Lab team can, hopefully, reuse it for a future flight.

Is this crazier than a self-landing rocket? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to watch. The launch is expected to go some time in the next week and you’ll be able to watch it here: