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Rocket Lab to Launch Lunar Missions with New Photon Spacecraft




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Smallsat launcher Rocket Lab has announced its ambition to launch lunar missions in the near future, using a new satellite launch platform it has developed called Photon.

Posted today at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C., Rocket Lab – currently flying the New Zealand rocket "Electron" and launching from US Page next year – said Photon will allow small spacecraft to reach lunar orbit or conduct lunar flights.

Photon is the evolution of the existing start-up phase of the company used to deploy satellites in orbit, including the company ninth launch last week, which saw them deploying satellite at their highest altitude ever. It fits into the existing Electron rocket and is essentially a self-propelled spacecraft containing its own instruments, propulsion, fuel tanks and much more.

Customers who want to buy an Electron mission to the moon will be able to include their own spacecraft up to 30kg in Photon. But they will also be able to use the Photon platform on their own as an additional spacecraft and use it as they see fit into the lunar orbit.

"This is actually what we see as the icing on the cake," says Grant Bonin, Rocket Lab's chief space systems engineer. "You get two for the price of one. Even if you have your own spacecraft, we'll give you that ride, but then Photon isn't useless after all, quite the opposite. "

In addition to the lunar orbit, the Rocket Laboratory also says it will enable missions to Earth-Moon Lagrange points – areas of gravitational stability where the gravity of both bodies is essentially canceled – as well as lunar flying missions and Near the Rectilinear Halo Orbit, which is an almost lunar orbit planned by NASA's upcoming Lunar Portal.

Bonin says they already have customers lined up for the first lunar missions (the company has not revealed how much these missions will cost), which they hoped to launch by the end of 2020. And they see a large enough market to support these missions in the near future, building their operations into Earth's orbit.

"The international community has really shifted its focus to the moon in recent years," he says. "There is a tremendous amount of processing that needs to be done and infrastructure needs to be set up, everything from resource searching to & nbsp; & finding & rsqb; landing places. These are small spacecraft that are ideally suited. "

And it is possible that this Photon system could be used for missions even beyond the Moon in the future. Other interplanetary missions, including asteroids near Earth or even Mars, may be possible. "Mars is not off the table at all," Bonin says. "But we still have no one who has expressed that interest."

The company is currently seeing a large enough market to support lunar missions. And, with a growing focus on the moon, both from government agencies and private entities, Rocket Lab believes it can provide a useful service for small satellites to reach the moon to support these efforts.

"Small satellites will play a key role in science and research, as well as in providing communications and navigational infrastructure to support the return of people to the moon," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.

"Just like LEO, low Earth orbit & rsqb; a small spacecraft, many potential research instruments and full satellites are on the shelves waiting to start deeper. In the same way that we opened the LEO access for small cities, Rocket Lab is poised to become a dedicated drive to the moon and beyond for small satellites. "

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Smallsat launcher Rocket Lab has announced its ambition to launch lunar missions in the near future, using a new satellite launch platform it has developed called Photon.

Announced today at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington, DC, Rocket Lab – which currently flies its Electron rocket from New Zealand and will launch from a US site next year – said Photon will allow small spacecraft to reach lunar orbit lunar flights.

Photon is the evolution of the existing startup phase of the company used to deploy satellites in orbit, including the company's ninth launch last week, which saw them deploying satellite at their highest altitude yet. It fits into the existing Electron rocket and is essentially a self-propelled spacecraft containing its own instruments, propulsion, fuel tanks and much more.

Customers who want to buy an Electron mission to the moon will be able to include their own spacecraft up to 30kg in Photon. But they will also be able to use the Photon platform on their own as an additional spacecraft and use it as they see fit into the lunar orbit.

"This is actually what we see as the icing on the cake," says Grant Bonin, Rocket Lab's chief space systems engineer. "You get two for the price of one. Even if you have your own spacecraft, we'll give you that ride, but then Photon isn't useless after all, quite the opposite. "

In addition to the lunar orbit, Rocket Lab also says it will allow missions to Earth-Moon Lagrange points – areas of gravitational stability, where the gravity of both bodies is essentially canceled – as well as for lunar flight missions and the Rectilinear Shell. orbit, near the nearly lunar orbit planned by NASA's upcoming Lunar Portal.

Bonin says they already have customers lined up for the first lunar missions (the company has not revealed how much these missions will cost), which they hoped to launch by the end of 2020. And they see a large enough market to support these missions in the near future, building their operations into Earth's orbit.

"The international community has really shifted its focus to the moon in recent years," he says. "There's a tremendous amount of processing that needs to be done and infrastructure needs to be set up, everything from searching for resources [finding] landing places. These are small spacecraft that are ideally suited. "

And it is possible that this Photon system could be used for missions even beyond the Moon in the future. Other interplanetary missions, including asteroids near Earth or even Mars, may be possible. "Mars is not off the table at all," Bonin says. "But we still have no one who has expressed that interest."

The company is currently seeing a large enough market to support lunar missions. And, with a growing focus on the moon, both from government agencies and private entities, Rocket Lab believes it can provide a useful service for small satellites to reach the moon to support these efforts.

"Small satellites will play a key role in science and research, as well as in providing communications and navigational infrastructure to support the return of people to the moon," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.

“Just like LEO [low Earth orbit] a small spacecraft, many potential research instruments and full satellites are on the shelves waiting to start deeper. In the same way that we opened the LEO access for small cities, Rocket Lab is poised to become a dedicated drive to the moon and beyond for small satellites. "


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