Rocket Lab has revealed that it plans to utilise a boosted version of the company’s next-generation Photon satellite platform to deliver payloads to lunar orbit. The system could drastically reduce the cost and logistical effort required for a mission to the Moon.
At the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington, DC on October 21, Rocket Lab revealed that it plans to support extended missions to medium, geostationary, and lunar orbits utilising the company’s Photon satellite platform.
“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,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.”
Although Photon is an evolution of the Rocket Lab Kick Stage, the versatile satellite platform has been designed from the ground up to support deep space missions. It features radiation-tolerant avionics, deep space navigation and communication technology, and a propulsion system capable of multiple restarts in orbit.
When launching a payload destined for the Moon or beyond, Photon will be fitted with a “bulk maneuver stage”. The combined stack will likely be capable of carrying a payload of around 100 kilograms to lunar orbit, although no specific payload capacity for lunar missions has yet been revealed.
According to an October 21 Rocket Lab press release, the first Photon powered payload could launch aboard the company’s Electron rocket as early as late 2020. The company has, however not revealed what payload it will carry or if the company has secured any customers for its Photon satellite platform as of yet.