COLORADO SPRINGS – Having established itself in the market for small launchers, Rocket Lab now plans to enter the small satellite field with a bus that, according to the company, can get customers into orbit more quickly.
At the 35th Space Symposium here, Rocket Lab unveiled Photon, a small company based on the company's kick-off stage on its electron rocket. The company offers Photon as part of an end-to-end service that includes the launch of Electron and the option to handle spacecraft operations.
In an interview, Peter Beck, Chief Executive of Rocket Lab, introduced Photon as a platform that enables customers to integrate a variety of payloads, from earth observation cameras to communications devices, and bring them to orbit in less time than if companies would build their own satellites.
"We see many companies, especially in the NewSpace sector, building their satellites for the first time," he said. "They're trying to provide a data service, but they need to learn everything they need to develop their own satellite rather than earning revenue directly."
Beck argued that Rocket Lab's integrated approach was more efficient and less risky for startups. "Not only can you use a proven carrier vehicle, you can also use a proven spacecraft platform, so you do not have to spend a lot of development time or risk putting your idea into orbit," he said.
The company considers Photon particularly good. suitable for technology demonstration missions, where customers bring a payload that they would like to quickly launch in space before being deployed in a larger constellation. Rocket Lab could also provide the payloads in addition to the bus. "If you have one idea and no payload, either through Rocket Lab or through Rocket Lab partnerships, we can take care of it," he said.
The spacecraft Photon itself is not finished fly yet, but it is based on the kick phase, which was successfully flown in four of the first five electron launches. Beck said the company planned from the outset to convert the kick stage into a satellite bus. "If you can build a launcher," he said, "you certainly have all the know-how and equipment needed to build a spacecraft."
Rocket Lab will produce the Photon at its factory in Huntington Beach, California, where it also produces the Rutherford Motor, which powers Electron. The company estimates that it will be able to produce and launch a photon in just four months.
Beck did not give an exact figure of how many satellites the factory can produce, but said that it was "heavily" tied to the electron production rate that is currently accelerating the company to one rocket per week. The company has reserved approximately half of Huntington Beach space for satellite production.
Each photon can carry up to 1
Rocket Lab is working with a number of customers interested in Photon, but Beck said the company is not ready to announce it. He was also not worried that Photon might stop companies developing their own satellites from launching them with Electron.
"It's just an extension of our product line to make it easier for people to get things into orbit."