Pick up a downed rocket and take it back to the shore…
On Tuesday (it will still be Monday night in New York), Rocket Lab, a small company with a small rocket, is aiming for an impressive feat during its latest launch from New Zealand’s east coast. After sending a payload of 34 small satellites into orbit, the company will use a helicopter to catch the used 39-foot booster stage for the rocket before it takes off into the Pacific Ocean.
If the booster is in good shape, Rocket Lab might refurbish the craft, then use it for another orbital launch, a feat achieved so far by only one company, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Here’s what you need to know.
When and how can I watch the launch and try to capture?
Rocket Lab broadcasts a video of the mission live On her YouTube channelor you can watch it in the player included above.
The launch date is set for 6:41 PM ET. However, the company briefly put the liftoff on hold, before changing the new launch time to 6:49 PM ET. Then the countdown resumed.
Why is Rocket Lab trying to pick up his booster?
In the space launch industry, single-use rockets were very expensive. Reusing them lowers the cost of transporting payloads into space and can speed up launches by reducing the number of rockets that need to be built.
“Eighty percent of the cost of the entire rocket in that first stage, in terms of materials and labor,” said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, in an interview Friday.
SpaceX pioneered a new era of reusable rockets, and now it regularly lands and flies the first stages of its Falcon 9 rockets again and again. Falcon 9’s second stages (as well as Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket) are still neglected, and usually burn up while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX’s next-generation rocket, called the Starship, is set to be completely reused. Competitors such as Blue Origin and the United Launch Alliance are developing rockets that are at least partially reusable, as are companies in China.
NASA’s space shuttles were partially reusable, but required labor-intensive and expensive work after each flight, and did not deliver on their promises of aircraft-like operations.
How will the fishing process work?
After launch, the booster rocket will separate from the electron rocket’s second stage at an altitude of about 50 miles, and during descent, it will accelerate to 5,200 miles per hour.
A propulsion system that expels cold gas will guide the booster as it falls, and thermal protection will protect it from temperatures in excess of 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Atmospheric friction will act as a brake. About 7 minutes, 40 seconds after takeoff, the fall speed of the booster will slow to less than twice the speed of sound. At this point, a small canopy called a drogue will be deployed, adding more drag. Then the larger main canopy slows the booster to a more comfortable rate.
A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter hovering in the area at 5,000 to 10,000 feet would meet the booster in midair, pulling a grappling hook line across the line between the main and parachute parachutes.
distance The helicopter picks up the booster, and carries it to the Rocket Lab ship or back to Earth.
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