Blue Origin did it, SpaceX did it, and now Rocket Lab wants to do it. The “it” is to successfully retrieve rocket boosters so they can be reused in the future. Back on April 6th, Rocket Lab stated:
For the first time, Rocket Lab will also attempt a mid-air capture of Electron’s first stage as it returns from space after launch, the next major step in the Company’s development program to make Electron a reusable rocket. Rocket Lab will be attempting the catch with a customized Sikorsky S-92, a large twin engine helicopter typically used in offshore oil & gas transport and search and rescue operations.
According to CNN, after a few delays the Rocket Lab mission called “There and Back Again” was successful in grabbing the rocket booster. Time will tell whether the captured booster is in fact reusable. As of this posting, Rocket Lab had yet to post its own press release on the mission.
It seems like a risky approach to use pilots rather than a self-controlled landing, but Rocket Lab has explained that its Electron rocket is too small to carry the amount of fuel necessary to land itself. The CNN article also pointed out that the U.S. retrieved material mid-air in the past when planes were used to capture film canisters dropped from spy satellites.
Rocket Lab has been a quiet player so far in the space race, but its showing steady gains. It’s website stated it has already launched 146 satellites, and another 1,700+ satellites in orbit are using Rocket Lab technology. It is great to have some depth in the commercial space market.