Rocket Lab readies plans for moon cargo trip

Max Blenkin

US space company Rocket Lab, which has so far launched satellites from New Zealand, plans to expand its services to deliver cargo to the moon.

Rocket Lab readies plans for moon cargo trip
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The company said it was adding lunar payload capability to its new Photon satellite bus, which will be able to deliver cargo into lunar orbit for an unspecified price.

This won’t initially be large quantities. Rocket Lab founder and chief executive New Zealander Peter Beck said Photon would be able to carry 30 kilograms to the moon. That could be items such as scientific instruments.

Photon will deal with all the other mission requirements such as power, propulsion and communications.

In an interview at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington, Beck told spacenews.com that Rocket Lab decided to take on lunar missions based on customer inquiries and internal interest.

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He said they had been pleasantly surprised at the kind of things they had been able to do with Photon.

“This is kind of the next evolution. There’s a lot of opportunity here,” he said.

Rocket Lab doesn’t have any customers for lunar cargo missions yet.

However, Beck said there had been interest from both governments and private companies.

Under the Artemis mission, NASA plans to return people to the moon in 2024, using it as a base for later missions to Mars.

“We’re very passionate about space exploration, and we feel like we can play a role to get infrastructure there first to aid with these programs,” Beck said.

Rocket Lab demonstrated its enhanced propulsion capability with its latest launch on 16 October when it placed a single Astro Digital cubesat into orbit more than twice the altitude of previous launches.

The first Photon mission into Earth orbit is planned for next year. Rocket Lab says it has both government and private customers for Photon. 

Under a new agreement announced on 22 October, Rocket Lab will provide customers for Electron and Photon launches access to the KSAT ground station networks.

That’s an additional service which means customers won’t need to make their own separate arrangements.

Beck said the KSAT partnership will allow Rocket Lab to offer a complete set of services.

“There are three pillars in space: launch, satellites and ground. Our objective is to provide all of those things. The goal here is to make it easy for customers,” he said.

Head of KSAT USA Katherine Monson said this was a natural partnership.

“Collectively, we can integrate our two platforms so that everyone can focus on building good business cases for space-based data platforms, and we’ll figure out the behind-the-scenes work,” she said.

Rocket Lab has planned its next Electron launch, its 10th, for November. For end of year, the company is planning two launches a few weeks apart to demonstrate its ability to achieve high flight rates.

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