MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — In 2020, Rocket Lab, a small launch vehicle developer, plans to concentrate on its satellite scheme, providing a highly efficient spacecraft bus to complement its current rocket.
Whereas Rocket Lab is primarily known for the small startup Electron Vehicle, last year, the company announced the development in the Electron kick stage of a satellite bus named Photon. The firm believes that the phase could be a perfect platform for companies wishing to orbit sensors or other payloads quickly.
The company’s primary objective in 2020 is to get Photon into commercial operation. Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, stated in an interview on February 4, during the SmallSat Symposium here. “It’s a satellite year for us.” He said that the company already considers launch services as a “solved issue” for the electron, even though it is trying to increase the vehicle’s flight rate and open new launch facilities.
“This year, our attention is on the spacecraft because that is the next significant thing to solve,” he added. “Most people understand Rocket Lab as a launch firm, but we are putting much focus on becoming a space company.”
Beck said Rocket Lab views Photon as a highly-performing satellite bus serving a broad range of government and business customers. The Photon is an “LEO sandbox” since it allows them to examine payloads in orbit “on nearly absurd time frames, according to him. Companies are also willing to participate in the platform and can focus on their business models and distinct technologies. There is a particular concern from the state users. He said, “certain startup firms ought not to be the satellite itself, but to focus on their sensors and incomes.” “On that, we have some solid uptake.”
Well into the second quarter, Rocket Lab intends to deploy its first Photon. Beck said it’d be a prototype satellite and that potential users will be able to test its performance. If practical, he states but does not reveal any specific customers, that the business would move swiftly to working missions.
The Photon wouldn’t be at the lower end of the market, he recognized. “We’re not going to be the least expensive option,” he said unless Photon is entitled to payloads that instead would have flown on several satellites. “We are looking for best-in-class construction.”
This year, Rocket Lab will continue its attempts to recover and re-utilize the electron’s first stage. At the latest launch, Beck said the first phase was kept intact and regulated all through to the ocean surface. After yet another “block upgrade” to the rocket, reusability trials will continue later this year to include parachutes that permit a slow descent into the ocean.
In the small launch market, the organization is facing new rivalry. In the coming weeks, two firms, Astra and Virgin Orbit, are planning to try their first satellite flights, and dozens of other spacecraft are developing in the world.