Rocket Lab successfully restored service earlier this week by successfully launching its customer’s satellite into orbit, but the deployment is not the only reason to celebrate,media New Atlas reported. The team revealed Thursday that it also successfully put its Photon satellite into orbit as part of the same flight, marking its hopes of one day sending a spacecraft to the moon or beyond.
Rocket Lab has been sending satellites into orbit at a steady rate over the past few years, on missions for NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force. On Sunday, the company successfully completed a launch mission for Capella Space, sending a satellite weighing about 10 kg into orbit after a clean launch and stage separation.
Soon after, however, the team launched a new procedure to put a secondary payload into orbit. This involves the Kick Stage of the Electron rocket, a powerful extra stage built into the launch vehicle that uses an air-conditioning reaction control system to deploy satellites to highly accurate orbits.
The team sent instructions that effectively transitioned Kick Stage to a Photon satellite. Last year Rocket Lab revealed its ambitions to expand its service to medium-, geostationary and lunar orbits with small satellites and payloads.
The Photon satellite was built for missions from low-Earth orbit missions to missions involving other planets. It can provide navigation, communication and power support for smaller satellites, but it can also be used as a full-featured spacecraft, has its own propulsion system for orbital maneuvering, and has the capability to perform S-band telemetry up to 512kbps.
Photon is designed to take different configurations based on mission profiles, but the device launched into space this week is called First Light. The deployment was the first demonstration of the Photon satellite as a two-in-one spacecraft, using the customer satellite as a Kick Stage and then as its own small satellite.
“The launch of the first Photon mission marks a major turning point for space users — it is now easier than ever to launch and operate a space mission,” said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab.