How to watch Rocket Lab launch today

Capture a falling rocket and bring it back to shore …

On Tuesday (it’ll still be Monday night in New York), Rocket Lab, a small company with a small rocket, aims to accomplish an impressive feat during its latest launch from New Zealand’s east coast. After sending a payload of 34 small satellites into orbit, the company will use a helicopter to capture the depleted 39-foot-long rocket booster stage before it splashed into the Pacific Ocean.

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

Here’s what you need to know.

The launch is currently scheduled for 6:41 pm Eastern time. Rocket Lab will stream the mission video live on his YouTube channel, or you can watch it in the built-in player above. Streaming should start about 20 minutes before launch.

In the space launch industry, rockets were expensive single-use throwaways. Their reuse helps reduce the cost of delivering cargo to space and could accelerate the rate of launch by reducing the number of rockets that need to be produced.

“Eighty percent of the cost of the entire rocket is in that first phase, both in terms of materials and labor,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said Friday.

SpaceX has paved the way for a new era in reusable rockets and now regularly lands the first stages of its Falcon 9 rockets and flies them over and over again. The second stages of the Falcon 9 (as well as Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket) are still discarded, typically burning out as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX’s next-generation super rocket called Starship will be fully reusable. Likewise, competitors like Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are developing rockets that are at least partially reusable, as are companies in China.

NASA’s space shuttles were also partially reusable, but required long and expensive work after each flight and 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 approximately 50 miles and accelerate to 5,200 miles per hour during the descent.

A thruster system that expels cold gas will orient the booster as it falls, and thermal protection will protect it from temperatures above 4,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The friction of the atmosphere will act as a brake. About 7 minutes, 40 seconds after take off, the booster’s drop rate will slow down to double the speed of sound. At that point, a small parachute called a drogue will deploy, adding further resistance. A larger main parachute further slows the booster to a slower pace.

A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter hovering in the area at an altitude of between 5,000 and 10,000 feet will encounter the booster in midair, dragging a line with a grappling hook across the line between the drogue and the main parachutes.

After capturing the booster, the helicopter must transport it to a Rocket Lab ship or return to land.