Rocket Lab will reuse its rockets by catching them with a helicopter

This could help it launch more rockets and save money.

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Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab

SpaceX won't be the only company reusing its rockets for payload deliveries. Rocket Lab has unveiled plans to recover the first stage of its Electron vehicle. The strategy's first phase will have Rocket Lab recovering the stage from the ocean and refurbishing it for later. A second phase will be more... audacious. The company intends to have the stage "captured mid-air" by a helicopter, with the aircraft hooking on to the rocket's parachute array during the descent. It won't be as elegant as SpaceX's rocket landings, but it will be efficient if it works as planned.

The motivation is quite clear: this should lead to more launches and lower costs. Instead of having to build rockets from scratch for every launch, Rocket Lab could reuse vessels and have a turnaround time measured in days instead of weeks. It might not have to produce as many rockets in the first place, for that matter. As company chief Peter Beck told CNBC, even a single reuse for each rocket would double the effective production rate.

You may have to wait a while to see a real recovery. Rocket Lab has started including instrumentation on its missions to "inform future recovery efforts," but you won't see major changes to the Electron until three launches from now -- and that doesn't mean it'll attempt a recovery. It's only promising a bid sometime in the "coming year." Should this prove successful, though, reusable rockets may become downright commonplace.

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