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Rocket Lab adds spacecraft building program

Rocket Lab's production facility. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s production facility. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab unveiled its in-house developed and built Photon satellite platform at the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The company said April 8, 2019, it intends to provide an integrated spacecraft build and launch service, allowing small satellite customers to focus on delivering their service from orbit without having to build their own satellite bus hardware.

ocket Lab's Photon satellite. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

According to Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck, Photon was always intended as an integrated part of the rocket Lab experience from the earliest days of the Electron rocket program.

“Small satellite operators want to focus on providing data or services from space, but building satellite hardware is a significant barrier to achieving this,” Beck said in a statement. “The time, resources and expertise required to build hardware can draw small satellite operators away from their core purpose, delaying their path to orbit and revenue. As the turn-key solution for complete small satellite missions, Rocket Lab brings space within easy reach. We enable our customers to focus on their payload and mission—we look after the rest.”

Photon is based on the Electron Rocket’s Kick Stage, which has been successfully used on four orbital Electron flights. Photon can carry up to about 375 pounds (170 kilograms) of payload mass.

The satellite is designed to carry out a wide variety of low-Earth orbit missions including technology demonstrations, risk reduction pathfinders, constellations and hosted payloads.

Photon is expected to use a high-powered version of the Kick Stage’s 3D printed Curie engine. The spacecraft is designed to support missions with an orbital lifespan of up to five years.

Rocket Lab said that a Photon can be launched atop an Electron rocket in as little as four months “from order to orbit.”

The company intends to launch the first operational Photon in late 2019 from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Customer missions are in active planning for 2020.

ELaNa-19 lift off from Launch Complex 1. Photo Credit: Kieran Fanning and Sam Toms

ELaNa-19 lift off from Launch Complex 1. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab/ Kieran Fanning and Sam Toms



Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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