How to watch the Rocket Lab launch today

How to watch the Rocket Lab launch today

Catch a falling rocket and bring it back to shore…

On Tuesday (it will still be Monday night in New York), Rocket Lab, a small company with a small rocket, aims to pull off an impressive feat on its latest launch from the east coast of New Zealand. After sending a payload of 34 small satellites into orbit, the company will use a helicopter to catch the spent 39-foot-long booster stage of the rocket before it crashes into the Pacific Ocean.

If the booster is in good condition, Rocket Lab can refurbish the vehicle and then use it for another orbital launch, a feat so far achieved by only one company, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Here’s what you need to know.

The launch is currently scheduled for 6:41 p.m. EST. Rocket Lab will be streaming the mission video live on its YouTube channel, or you can watch it in the embedded player above. The stream is scheduled to begin approximately 20 minutes before launch.

In the space launch industry, rockets were once expensive single-use disposable items. Their reuse reduces the cost of delivering payloads into space and could speed up the launch rate by reducing the number of rockets to be manufactured.

“Eighty percent of the cost of the entire rocket is in this first stage, both in terms of materials and labor,” Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said Friday.

SpaceX pioneered a new era in reusable rockets and now regularly lands the first stages of its Falcon 9 rockets and flies them again and again. Falcon 9 second stages (as well as Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket) are always thrown away, usually burning up as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX’s next-gen super rocket called Starship is to be fully reusable. Competitors like Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are similarly developing rockets that are at least partially reusable, as are companies in China.

NASA’s space shuttles were also partially reusable, but required extensive and expensive work after each flight, and they never lived up to their promise of airliner-like operations.

After launch, the booster will separate from the second stage of the Electron rocket at an altitude of about 50 miles, and during descent it will accelerate to 5,200 miles per hour.

A system of thrusters that expel cold gas will steer the thruster as it drops, and thermal shielding will protect it from temperatures exceeding 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The friction of the atmosphere will act as a brake. Approximately 7 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff, the thruster’s falling velocity will slow to less than twice the speed of sound. At this point, a small parachute called the drug will deploy, adding additional drag. A larger main parachute then further slows the booster to a more leisurely pace.

A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter hovering in the area at an altitude of 5,000 to 10,000 feet will encounter the thruster in the air, dragging a line with a grappling hook through the line between the drug and the main parachutes.

After grabbing the booster, the helicopter must carry it to a Rocket Lab ship or to landing.

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