Wish there was a video
I've been wondering exactly how you catch something with a helicopter, given that something falling vertically would hit the blades. I guess its chute has it falling at an angle, and the copter is banking during the catch?
Space launch contender Rocket Lab has successfully demonstrated its peculiar method of capturing spent rocket boosters so they can be re-used: catching them with a helicopter as they fall. The outfit planned to make the catch on April 29, but bad weather delayed the mission. The skies cleared today and the mission – dubbed “ …
Check their release-to-media media on dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kumqcl235k3sghq/AABjn84VRhkmj8C_7IVL69pka/Mission%20Photos%20and%20Video/Launch%2026_There%20And%20Back%20Again?dl=0&subfolder_nav_tracking=1
It's clearly a promo video, but it shows the technique.
It's great to see it being technically possible. Now it will be interesting is to see if it is worthwhile from an economic perspective. As Peter Beck has previously stated, getting one back to the factory (even if full of seawater) is the way to work this out.
Helicopter at sea operations are notoriously expensive, then add to this the cost of inspection and refurbishment of what they got back. With an expensive to build rocket there will be a margin to make it cost effective, which is how SpaceX manages it. However with the Electron the ticket price is much lower so the recovery costs are vastly more significant.
Whilst I agree with you on the huge costs for the recovery, you might be underestimating the costs involved in building a rocket motor. They are hugely complex pices of kit, usually made from very expensive materials. Even being able to reuse only half of the rocket motor would probably make it profitable to retrieve the Rocket as they are planning. Even better if they can keep it out of the Sea next time...
you might be underestimating the costs involved in building a rocket motor
Their Rutherford engine is a small low cost engine with 9 of them on the Electron booster plus a vacuum optimized one on the second stage. It's incredible simple (for a rocket engine) as it uniquely uses a battery powered electric pump instead of a complex pre-burner and turbopump. Because of its small size and simplicity it is mostly 3d printed. I don't know the cost of a set of nine but I suspect it's one of if not the most cost effective solutions launching.
This article has a great picture of Peter Beck with a Rutherford engine https://spacenews.com/rocket-lab-unveils-battery-powered-3d-printed-rocket-engine/
"I suspect it's one of if not the most cost effective solutions launching."
Just because its cost effective doesnt mean its cheap. Cheaper than the competition perhaps, but your still looking at millions of dollars per unit.(I naturally do not have the figures, and have no relation to Rocket Lab, but Rocket motors and engines are always the most expensive part of the rocket and usually make up a very large proportion of the costs).
A 30m Superyacht is cheaper than a 40m Superyacht, but its still not what you would consider a bargain... ;)
your still looking at millions of dollars per unit
Per unit as in per engine. Nope they don't cost that. An Electron launch to orbit will reportedly set you back $4.9 million. As there are 10 engines flown they certainly won't cost millions per unit. The total cost of all 10 on the launch is likely to be less than one million.
Tory Bruno's (who is a rocket engineer) big rule of thumb (subject to plus or minus) is that half the cost of a launch service is the rocket, half the cost of the rocket is the booster and 2/3 of the cost of the booster is the engines. This puts the nine first stage engines at a little over 100K each. Sounds about right.
We are not talking about 30m Superyatchs here, more like 23 foot surf boats.
"This puts the nine first stage engines at a little over 100K each. Sounds about right."
And looking at the photo in the linked article by the poster above, they are *tiny*.
According to the wikipedia of all knowledge:
Diameter 25 cm (9.8 in)
Dry weight 35 kg (77 lb)
Ok, nine of them, but seriously? Tiny!!
The only way we will know for sure is if Rocket Lab keeps at it. Peter Beck publicly stated Rocket Lab would not re-use its boosters because the cost of recovery was too close to the cost of replacement. He later ate his hat. The problem was that it takes time to make rockets out of composite materials and even longer to purchase the required robots. Rocket Lab could not keep up with demand or buy equipment fast enough to boost their production rate.
Re-using Electron has turned out 'easier' than expected: some extra thermal protection around the hot spots and a parachute. Falcon 9 needed 60% longer booster tanks and much more powerful engines to lift all that extra propellant.
Some bits of Electron have flown again after being fished out of the sea but it looks like the helicopter trick is only a stop-gap. The plan for Neutron is to have the booster return to the launch site with the fairing attached - because boats and helicopters are expensive.
> Helicopter at sea operations are notoriously expensive
True, but so is carrying extra fuel for a controlled landing.
Which of the two approaches prevails, eh, that's a question for the future. My money is on - different approaches will suite different tasks.
Somehow I doubt that recovering a rocket booster with a helicopter is going to prove economically viable.
There is no guarantee of recovery, and if the operation misses, the booster is gone and you have spent not insignificant amounts of money on a helicopter for nothing.
Given that there is no way of ensuring success, what is basically needed is to know how many failures they can sustain before going under.
It seems a risky way of perfecting booster return, like this launch encountered a hold of about 10mins, which presumably they add to the helicopters fuel budget, but if the launch window is over several hours,would you want your helicopter recovery service to be the determining point of failing to launch because its low on fuel stuck in the sea? And recycle of fuel is expensive plus adds to your overall launch reuse as theyll only be rated for so many fuelling cycles before you've got to replace it anyway.
Plus as a company with shares trading on the markets, failures become share price affecting which is no doubt why they cut the feed even though we kind of knew the attempt had failed
Peter Beck's babble is pretty much all marketing fluff. Last time I checked, helicopters find it to be rather difficult to get even close to "supersonic". Nothing to lose sleep over.
On the other hand, catching stuff falling from orbit has been fairly common since the late 1950s (see the CORONA program).