Another Rocket Company Announces Moon Plans
Rocket Lab, an American startup with a wholly-owned subsidiary in New Zealand, aims to be the go-to company for launching small satellites to the moon. It may be ready to launch as soon as next year
Photo Rocket Lab
This week, Rocket Lab, a startup that’s mostly focused on delivering satellites into low-Earth orbit said that possibly as soon as next year it could be ready to deliver satellites to lunar orbit.
“Small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the moon,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “In the same way we opened access to LEO (low-Earth orbit- that is, an altitude of 2,000 kilometers or less) for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.”
According to Beck, there’s already existing demand, with a lot of research equipment and “full satellites” already “on shelves” waiting for a ride to deeper space than is currently available.
One potential customer for Rocket Lab is NASA, which, as part of its Artemis mission, plans to put humans back on the moon in 2024 and to establish a permanent presence there – one that could potentially aid it in its plans to go on to Mars.
In January, China became the first country to land a rover, the Chang’e 4, on the moon’s far side. In February, Israeli company SpaceIL attempted, unsuccessfully, to become the first company to soft-land on the moon. And in July, India launched its Chandrayaan-2 mission. As with SpaceIL, India didn’t manage to safely get its lander onto the lunar surface, however, its orbiter is performing well.
But the coming years promise even more.
As for Rocket Lab, it envisions getting to the moon using its “Electron” rocket with its new “Photon” satellite/spacecraft and an additional “bulk maneuver stage.”
Rocket Lab was founded in New Zealand in 2006 and established headquarters in the U.S. in 2013. It currently launches exclusively from a homemade launch site in New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula but is building a second at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
Like Space X, Rocket Lab has plans to reuse its first-stage boosters. Rocket Lab plans to attach parachutes to them and to then catch them mid-air with helicopters.