Watch a Helicopter Catch a Rocket Booster Falling Back from Space

Rocket Lab launched its 26th Electron mission, successfully deploying 34 small satellites into orbit.

Watch a Helicopter Catch a Rocket Booster Falling Back from Space
Helicopter catches a falling rocket booster, then drops It in the ocean. Image: Rocket Lab

History was made as Rocket Lab successfully caught a falling Electron first-stage booster with a customised Sikorsky S-92 helicopter. Rocket Lab secured it at approximately 9:08 am AEST. After launching to space, Electron’s first stage returned to our planet under a parachute.

At 6,500 ft, Sikorsky S-92 from Rocket Lab ‘rendezvoused’ with the returning stage and used a hook on a lengthy line to capture the parachute line. But after the catch was complete, the helicopter pilot detected “different load characteristics” than those experienced in testing.


He decided to offload the stage, which led to a successful splashdown into the ocean. Now, the stage is being loaded onto a recovery vessel by Rocket Lab. According to the company, it will be transported back to the company’s factory.


Rocket Lab, a California-based company, was targeting 8:41 am AEST to launch its rideshare mission, dubbed “There and Back Again.” Live coverage of the attempted launch and booster catch was set to start around 8:10 am AEST. The launch window closed today at 10:41 am AEST.


The launch was unique as it included an exceptional recovery mission. The pilots of a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter attempted to catch the Electron booster mid-air during its parachute-assisted descent. Rocket Lab has successfully done the same during scaled-back tests.

Before the catch began, the company stated that Rocket Lab “will attempt to provide a live view of the catch from the helicopter, but due to the remote location where the capture will take place, we do expect some video loss.”

It also mentioned, “Upon the success of this recovery, Electron will be one step closer to being the first reusable orbital small sat launcher.”


The launch of the Electron took place at the Launch Complex 1 Pad A on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula of Rocket Lab. The rocket had to deliver 34 small satellites to Sun-synchronous orbit for customers such as Astrix Astronautics, Alba Orbital, E-Space, and Aurora Propulsion Technologies, among others. A successful deployment brought the total number of satellites launched by an Electron rocket to 146.

Watch the catch and drop by the helicopter in the video below.

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