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Rocket Lab’s Mars mission receives the green light from NASA – TechCrunch

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Rocket Lab's Mars mission receives the green light from NASA - TechCrunch

Rocket Lab is one step closer to getting to Mars with the company’s Photon spacecraft approved for an upcoming scientific mission. If everything goes according to plan, the two spaceships will launch in 2024 and arrive 11 months later on the Red Planet to study its magnetosphere.

The mission is known as Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers or ESCAPADE (hats off to whoever worked this out) and was proposed for a small satellite research program back in 2019 and was ultimately selected as a finalist. UC Berkeley researchers are the main force behind the science part.

These satellites will have to weigh less than 180 kilograms and perform stand-alone scientific missions that are part of a new program aimed at lighter, shorter pilot missions that can be carried out in close collaboration with the commercial industry. Since the program was originally announced, some concepts have baked, and ESCAPADE has just passed Key Decision Point C, meaning it is ready to move from concept to reality.

This particular mission is actually a pair of satellites, an asset that undoubtedly contributed to its successful selection. Rocket Lab’s whole intent with the Photon program is to provide a more or less turnkey design for various space operations, from orbital work to interplanetary scientific missions like this one.

Interestingly, Rocket Lab will not launch the mission aboard any of its electron rockets – the satellites will be on board a “NASA-provided commercial launcher,” which is up to them. Perhaps the company will be running for the contract at this point, but for now Rocket Lab is only building the spacecraft, including most of the non-scientific on-board components: navigation, orientation, propulsion, etc.

“ESCAPADE is an innovative mission that shows that advanced interplanetary science is now available for a fraction of the traditional cost, and we are proud to make this possible with Photon. We are very pleased to receive the green light for the flight from NASA, “said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck in the announcement of the milestone.

Rocket Lab already has a contract to raise a CubeSat into cislunar orbit for Artemis purposes and has signed a contract with Varda Space Industries to build that company’s starship for launch in 2023 and 2024.

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