Kiwis catch space rocket with chopper as it falls to Earth – but drop it again

A New Zealand space company could give Elon Musk a run for his money after successfully catching a falling rocket booster with a helicopter.

Rocket Lab managed to snag a plummeting rocket booster after launching 34 satellites to Earth, in a bid to prove it can offer cheaper reusable rocket technology than SpaceX.

Using a hook attached a helicopter, Rocket Lab's helicopter was able to snag the rocket's parachute and carry it for a while.

However, although the helicopter pilot managed to catch the booster, they had to quickly drop it back into the sea due to unexpected weight issues.

The launch took place on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, where the rocket was caught at 6,500ft above ground.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said: "Bringing a rocket back from space and catching it with a helicopter is something of a supersonic ballet.

"A tremendous number of factors have to align and many systems have to work together flawlessly, so I am incredibly proud of the stellar efforts of our Recovery Team and all of our engineers who made this mission and our first catch a success."

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Getting a rocket off the ground is one of the most expensive and difficult aspects of space travel.

Efforts to make rockets reusable are what is driving the new space race. SpaceX's Falcon 9 launcher has already been used multiple times, including by NASA to get astronauts to the space station.

Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin also has a reusable rocket launcher in the form of the New Shepard rocket system.

However, if Rocket Lab is successful, they might be able to undercut the competition by removing the need for expensive reusable landing gear with their helicopter catching technique.

Rocket Lab's next launch is later this month.

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