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How to watch Rocket Lab launch today

Catch a falling rocket and carry it 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 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 catch the booster stage of the 39-foot-long rocket before it falls into the Pacific Ocean.

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

This is what you need to know.

The launch is currently scheduled for 6:41 pm ET. Rocket Lab will broadcast a video of the mission live on its YouTube channel, or you can watch it in the embedded player above. The broadcast is scheduled to start about 20 minutes before launch.

In the space launch industry, rockets used to be expensive and disposable. Reusing them helps reduce the cost of sending payloads into space and could speed up the launch rate by reducing the number of rockets that need to be made.

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

SpaceX pioneered 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. Falcon 9 second stages (as well as Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket) are still scrapped and typically burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX’s next-generation super rocket called Starship will be completely reusable. Competitors like Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are also 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 never lived up to their promise of commercial airliner-like operations.

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

A system of propellants that expel cold gas will orient the propellant 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 liftoff, the propellant’s rate of descent will slow to less than twice the speed of sound. At that point, a small parachute called a drogue will deploy, adding extra drag. A larger main parachute then further slows the booster to a more leisurely speed.

A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter flying over the area at an altitude of 5,000 to 10,000 feet will meet the booster in the air, dragging a line with a grappling hook through the line between the float and main parachute.

After catching the booster, the helicopter must take it to a Rocket Lab ship or all the way back to land.