Rocket Lab has postponed the launch of an Electron booster it hopes to snatch out of the sky with a helicopter after liftoff to no earlier than Monday (May 2) due to weather.
Unfavorable weather conditions are the primary reason for the launch delay, Rocket Lab officials said in an update, but the company is taking the time to make final checks on its recovery system for the Electron rocket reusability test.
“After a busy week of capture testing, and while we wait for weather to improve, we’re taking an additional day for final helicopter and recovery system optimization ahead of our first mid-air capture attempt,” Rocket Lab representatives wrote in the Twitter update. Liftoff is now targeted for Monday during a nearly 2-hour window that opens at 6:35 pm EDT (2235 GMT).
Rocket Lab’s upcoming launch, called “There And Back Again,” will mark the company’s first attempt to recover an Electron booster’s first stage in flight as part of a plan to reuse the rockets and lower launch costs.
The plan calls for the Electron booster’s first stage to launch as normal, then fall back to Earth while optimizing its descent with “series of complex maneuvers designed to enable it to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric reentry,” the company said in a job description. A heat shield will protect the rocket’s nine Rutherford engines while a parachute will slow its fall so it can be captured by a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.
Rocket Lab has recovered Electron boosters from the ocean before and practiced mid-air catches of dummy rockets, but has not yet attempted to catch an Electron returning from space after an actual launch.
“Unlike previous recovery missions, ‘There And Back Again’ is attempting to avoid an ocean splashdown as the helicopter will return to the stage back to land after catch,” Rocket Lab wrote in the description. “Upon success of this recovery, Electron will be one step closer to being the first reusable orbital small sat launcher.”
Despite its ambitious nature, the Electron recovery test is not the primary goal for the There And Back Again mission.
Rocket Lab will launch 34 satellites into orbit on the flight for a variety of customers, including three demonstration satellites for startup E-Space, two batches of picosatellites for an “Internet of Things constellation” on a flight arranged by Spaceflight, Inc., and the AuroraSat-1, a demonstration satellite to test space junk removal technologies built by the Finland-based company Aurora Propulsion Technologies.