Rocket Lab gears up for lunar missions
Rocket Lab announced today at the International Astronautical Congress in Washinton DC that it is expanding its services to deliver small satellites and other payloads into medium, geostationary, and even lunar orbits as soon as late 2020.
It was only a little less than two years ago that the California-based Rocket Labs launched its first small satellite into Low-earth Orbit (LEO) from the company's New Zealand spaceport using its Electron booster. Now it's not only talking about sending small payloads into medium, geostationary, lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, and Lunar orbit, but soon delivering larger payloads to cis-lunar space and geostationary orbit (GEO).
According to Rocket Lab, this is because it has been using the lessons learned from its Electron orbital launches to make improvements to its 3D-printed Curie propulsion system, which now uses an improved bi-propellant and the Electron rocket's composite tanks. This allowed the company to deliver a payload to an altitude of 1,000 km (600 mi) on the ninth Electron launch.
But the biggest advance is probably the company's 50-kg (110-lb) Photon satellite platform with its radiation-hardened avionics, which is designed to support everything from LEO to interplanetary missions. Working in conjunction with the Electron booster rocket and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage, the Photon can not only deliver payloads to higher orbits but also provide navigation, communications, power and data support.
The platform provides mission support for small satellites of up to 170 kg (375 lb) from launch to up to five years in orbit and can not only act as an injection stage but also as a full-feature spacecraft.
The Photon can provide up to 1 kW of power at 28 V, propulsion for orbital maneuvers, up to a terabyte of data storage and S-band telemetry at up to 512 kbps.
"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," says Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck. "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, we opened access to LEO for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites."
Source: Rocket Lab