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How to Watch a Helicopter Try to Catch a Rocket Booster on Friday

When space startup Rocket Lab launches its next mission, it hopes to use a helicopter to catch the first-stage booster as it falls back to Earth. And this time the company aims to hang on to the booster too.  

A May attempt to pull off this unorthodox rocket recovery method saw the company manage to snag its booster using a long line attached to a chopper, but after just a few seconds the pilot opted to let go of the load. The booster splashed down in the ocean and was recovered.

Rocket Lab, based in the US and New Zealand, is ready to try again Friday after the 32nd launch of its Electron rocket, which is designed to send smaller satellites and payloads to space. The mission, nicknamed “Catch Me If You Can,” will launch from New Zealand carrying a scientific research satellite for the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA).    

Just as during its first catch attempt, the booster will deploy its parachutes as it falls back to Earth after sending its payload toward orbit. Then, a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter will try to grab the Electron first stage by its parachute line in order to transport it via air to Auckland for processing and possible refurbishment.

“Our first helicopter catch only a few months ago proved we can do what we set out to do with Electron,” Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a statement. “We’re eager to get the helicopter back out there and advance our rocket reusability even further by bringing back a dry stage for the first time.” 

The launch window for the mission opens at 10:15 a.m. PT Friday. The catch attempt will take place roughly 10 minutes after liftoff. The entire thing will be streamed live via Rocket Lab’s website.

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