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Rocket Lab to Design Spacecraft for NASA Mars Scientific Mission 

By Rachel Jewett | June 16, 2021

      A rendering of Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft traveling to Mars. Photo: Rocket Lab

      Rocket Lab will design two Photon spacecraft for a NASA scientific mission to Mars, the company announced June 15. 

      The mission dubbed ESCAPADE — Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers — will study Mars’ hybrid magnetosphere. It is led by a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. ESCAPADE is being developed under NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, and the mission was selected by NASA in 2019. 

      ESCAPADE is set to launch in 2024 aboard a NASA-provided commercial launch vehicle. The two Photon spacecraft will insert themselves  into elliptical orbits around Mars and conduct a 1-year primary science mission.

      This deal comes as Rocket Lab is diversifying its business beyond small satellite launch to enable commercial customer and space exploration missions with the Photon satellite platform. The company also has plans for the first private mission to Venus in 2023. 

      CEO Peter Beck commented in the release that the Photon platform allows for more cost-effective planetary exploration. 

      “This is a hugely promising mission that will deliver big science in a small package,” Beck said. “Planetary science missions have traditionally costed hundreds of millions of dollars and taken up to a decade to come to fruition. Our Photon spacecraft for ESCAPADE will demonstrate a more cost-effective approach to planetary exploration.”