Rocket Lab has unveiled plans to support extended range missions to medium, geostationary and lunar orbits with the company’s Photon satellite platform.
Less than two years after opening access to LEO for smallsats with the Electron launch vehicle, Rocket Lab is now bringing medium, geostationary, and lunar orbits within reach for small satellites. Rocket Lab will combine their Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as GEO.
The experience gained through multiple orbital Electron launches, and iterative performance improvements to Photon’s Curie propulsion system, enables Rocket Lab to undertake extended range missions with proven technology and significant experience. All systems for extended missions are derived from high-heritage flight-proven equipment, including the Curie engine, Kick Stage, Electron composite tanks, and demonstrated expertise in launch and spacecraft guidance, navigation and control.
Rocket Lab’s most recent mission, ‘As The Crow Flies,’ was the company’s 9th Electron launch and it saw Electron’s Kick Stage deploy a payload to an altitude of more than 1,000 km. The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the 3D-printed Curie propulsion system for Photon, including the move to a bi-propellant design for greatly improved performance.
Photon, in particular, was designed for use in both LEO and interplanetary missions, with radiation-tolerant avionics, deep space-capable communications and navigation technology, and high-performance space-storable propulsion capable of multiple restarts on orbit. The combination of Photon and Electron has been designed as a complete solution for responsive LEO, MEO and cis-lunar missions, as early as Q4 2020.
Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, said there is increasing international interest in lunar and beyond LEO exploration from government and private sectors, noting that small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon – they play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions. Just like LEO small spacecraft, many potential exploration instruments and full satellites are on shelves waiting for launch to deeper space. In the same way the company opened access to LEO for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.