Rocket Lab revealed Thursday that it launched its first satellite in its family of configurable Photon satellites on the recent “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical” launch on Aug. 30. The satellite, named “First Light,” is a technology demonstration. Rocket Lab said this milestone marks the company’s evolution from a launch provider to an end-to-end space solutions company offering turnkey satellites and spacecraft components, launch, and on-orbit operations.
“What we’ve tried to create here is not just a satellite, not just a launch vehicle. We’ve tried to create a full end-to-end solution. So customers can just come to us with their idea or their innovation, and we can get them on orbit in a really affordable timeframe and a really affordable cost,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a webcast announcing the milestone.
Rocket Lab said First Light builds upon the capabilities of the Electron launch vehicle’s Kick Stage with additional subsystems to enable long duration satellite operations. This mission will demonstrate the new power management, thermal control and attitude control subsystem capabilities. Rocket Lab is working to build flight heritage for future Photon satellite missions planned to LEO, the Moon, and Venus.
The smallsat launcher tested First Light in the recent launch after deploying a microsatellite for Capella Space, conducting a new operation for the first time. Rocket Lab engineers sent a command to transition the Kick Stage into Photon satellite mode, demonstrating the Photon satellite as a two-in-one spacecraft — first used to complete the launch vehicle function to deploy customer satellites, then transitioned into a satellite to continue a standalone mission.
Space Systems Chief Engineer Ehson Mosley said in the webcast he expects the future of the Photon program to be a balanced portfolio of commercial civil and national security space missions that “demand a higher level of performance, in particular more on-orbit maneuverability and missions beyond Low-Earth Orbit [LEO].”
Rocket Lab has made recent investments in its satellite division, acquiring satellite hardware company Sinclair Interplanetary in March, and opening a new headquarters and manufacturing complex in Long Beach, California, for production of Photons.