Rocket Lab is going to catch their missiles with a helicopter. How do you like Elon Musk?

A private American space company Rocket Lab has said that it intends during the year to develop the method for safe return to Earth worked first stages of its missiles Electron to allow their reuse. If she happens to realize this idea, it will become the second company in the world that will reuse already travelled into space of the rocket. At the moment the only company that produces reusable launch SpaceX is also American.

Reusable space launch

The main objective of the company Rocket Lab is to increase the number of space launches. Having the opportunity to return the spent stage back to earth, the company will not have to build for each successive launches new rocket from scratch. On this basis it is also clear that due to the re-use of previously spent parts of rockets it can reduce the cost of manufacturing new.

According to the head of Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, the first stage of the rocket Electron actually ready to be reusable launches.

All the engines, the turbopumps and the rest of the associated equipment is designed for endless use. If we can save the waste stage and return to the launch site, then at least in theory, will be able to prepare for new starts, says the head of the company.

As Rocket Lab will put their rockets?

As noted by the head of the Rocket Lab, unlike SpaceX, which puts the spent first stage of its rockets in a special area on the ground, and also floating platform with jet engines, his company is going to use a different approach.

The spent stage of the rocket Electron is expected to put to sea for special vehicle previously caught them by helicopter. The method the company intends to use earth’s atmosphere for braking stage in the dense layers.

After launch and output to the desired height, there will be a disjuncture between its first and second stages. The second (upper) stage of the rocket that contains the payload, will continue to climb, and the first will start to fall back into the atmosphere for further planting. According to Peter Beck, it will be the hardest part of the task of salvation of the rocket, because at this point it will be a lot of pressure and very high temperature by friction with the particles of the dense layers of the atmosphere.

We begin the return stage at the speed of 8.5 times the speed of sound, and then we will require only 70 seconds to slow her down to 0.01 of the speed of sound — said Beck in an interview with CNBC.

After this stage will have to release a parachute and slowly descend to the desired height, where it will be able to catch a helicopter equipped with a special cable with a grip. Then the helicopter will take the stage on the ship.

Visualization of the process of the return of the first stage of the rocket Electron you can see in the video below.

As SpaceX puts its missiles

The method is partly similar to the approach of the company SpaceX, which puts the exhaust stage of its rockets on a floating barge. However, the waste stage of the rocket, Electron Rocket Lab, the company will not make an independent landing with his engine (as in the case of SpaceX rockets).


The first stage of the rocket Falcon 9, stranded on a floating barge in the ocean


The landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 on the ground

According to Peter Beck, the use of rocket engines for the return stage of the rocket Electron company have considered in the past. However, it turned out that Rocket Lab, this approach is economically disadvantageous. To use the method of planting that is applied by the company SpaceX, Rocket Lab will have to create a larger rocket. Why? Because when landing due to the jet engines you need to use additional rocket fuel.


The launch of the company’s Electron Rocket Lab

Recall that the main activity of the company Rocket Lab – launch of small space satellites, the maximum size of a refrigerator. To do this it uses a small two-stage rocket Electron with a height of 17 meters, diameter of 1.2 meters and weighing 12.5 tons. The weight of the payload of the rocket is not more than 225 kg. the Cost of preparation of one missile to launch, the company estimates 6.5 – $ 7 million.

It certainly pales in comparison with the same Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX. Mass the latter is more than 500 tons, height – 70 meters, the diameter of 3.7 m. The rocket could orbit up to 22 tonnes of payload. And the startup cost starts from $ 60 million. And increases depending on weight of useful loading, and running (reusable or not).

During its existence the company Rocket Lab has conducted 6 launches its missiles Electron. Three of them were commercial. The last took place on 29 June this year. The company put into orbit four compact commercial satellite.