Wednesday, November 30

These rockets are reusable, but not because they return on their own: a helicopter catches them on the fly


Spacex blew us all away when it showed that its Falcon 9 rockets could be reused. After takeoff, they fell into the atmosphere and they were able to land perfectly on specific platforms for that part of the mission.

Now a company Rocket Labs proposes an alternative in which it has been working for years. One that makes the rockets not have to return alone, because when falling with the parachute deployed are caught in flight by a helicopter which then deposits them on a base.

Goodbye to the rocket crash in the ocean

Historically, rockets for space missions were disposable: in order to leave the atmosphere, spacecraft used a first stage with rockets that they ended up being trash on the ocean floor after less than three minutes of flight.

Make those reusable rockets it has been a revolution for today’s space race, and SpaceX with its Falcon 9s have shown that this idea —which is by no means new— was finally plausible.

Rocket Labs’ Electron rocket wants to be an alternative to the system proposed by the Falcon 9. Instead of the rocket returning to the ground and landing on special platforms, these rockets end up being caught on the fly by a helicopter.

They do it while they are in the final phase of the descent and the parachute has already opened. The idea is not simple because, as one of the company’s managers commented, “you have to place the helicopter exactly in the right place, you have to know where the descent of the first stage will take place and slow it down sufficiently”.

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Rocket Lab is not as well known as SpaceX, but they claim to be the only company that, together with Elon Musk’s is carrying satellites into orbit. In recent months they have stood out for the presentation of their Neutron rocket and their “low-cost” interplanetary missions.

The Electron is a 18-meter-high rocket whose lower 12 meters are the first stage. On April 22, it is expected that they will carry out the first definitive test with a launch from New Zealand that will end up in a 520 km high sun-synchronous orbit.

That first stage stops being active at 70 km altitude: after two minutes and 32 seconds takes off from the ship and ends up describing a long arc of descent that traditionally would have sent it to the bottom of the ocean.

The evolution of the rockets of yesterday and today, in an impressive graphic

When it is at an altitude of 13 km, a small parachute will be deployed, but it is at an altitude of 6 km when the main parachute is deployed, which is in charge of slowing down the descent, which from that moment occurs at 36 km/h.

It is at that moment when he acts a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, which features a hook attached to a long cord. The helicopter will fly over the rocket and catch the parachute cables, which then allows it to be lifted out of the water.

It remains to be seen if Rocket Labs’ unique rocket reuse system works: if it does, we’re looking at another unique breakthrough which will no doubt further accelerate the launch of space missions of all kinds.

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Via | IEEE Spectrum

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