Rocket Lab Enters the Smallsat Market

New launch platform is designed to service the booming industry.

Aerospace startup Rocket Lab is ready to make commercial smallsat launches. The company recently unveiled its Photon launch platform and has announced itself to be open for business.

Rocket Lab has already made a name for itself with the Electron, its 3D-printed rocket. The restartable kick stage of that rocket is an integral part of the Photon platform.

Photon is an integrated spacecraft build and launch service intended to make it simpler and easier to get a small satellite into space by removing the need to manufacture the spacecraft bus. This allows Rocket Lab’s clients to focus on delivering their services rather than building their own hardware.

Photon has an available payload of 170 kilograms and includes an S-band communication system, a high-performance attitude control system, and a robust avionics suite. The system can support missions with an orbital life span of up to five years.

It is designed for a variety of Low Earth Orbit missions such as technology demonstrations, constellation networks, hosted payloads and risk reduction pathfinders. The platform has the potential to be very useful for rapid deployment of communications, as well as Internet of Things and remote sensing applications.

“Small satellite operators want to focus on providing data or services from space, but building satellite hardware is a significant barrier to achieving this,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “The time, resources and expertise required to build hardware can draw small satellite operators away from their core purpose…We enable our customers to focus on their payload and mission—we look after the rest.”

Rocket Lab’s plans to be the premiere delivery service to space.

The first operational Photon will be launched in late 2019, with customer missions in planning for the next year. Two companies have already signed launch contracts. Rocket Lab aims to be able to launch a smallsat as soon as four months after a customer places an order.

“A lot of customers are very excited about that. It’s all about speed to orbit, especially for the U.S. government, which is trying to have responsive access to space,” said Beck. “If you have to wait 18 months until you can get on orbit, that is not rapid at all.”

This quick turnaround will be vital for companies getting into the smallsat market—a sector that is expanding rapidly. In 2017-18, more than 650 smallsats were launched—double the volume of 2015-16. And the industry shows no signs of slowing down.

Rocket Lab looks to be in a prime spot to take advantage of this growing market with its innovative technology. “As the turn-key solution for complete small satellite missions, Rocket Lab brings space within easy reach,” said Beck.

Read more about the growing smallsat sector at ABL Space Systems Upgrades Its Smallsat Launcher.