Rocket Lab’s Mars mission gets green light from NASA

Rocket Lab, a global leader in dedicated launch and space systems, today announced it will begin final mission design and commence manufacturing two interplanetary Photon spacecraft for a science mission to Mars, delivering Decadal-class science at a fraction of the cost of typical planetary missions.

 The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission will orbit two Rocket Lab-built Photon spacecraft around Mars to understand the structure, composition, variability, and dynamics of Mars’ unique hybrid magnetosphere. The mission will also support crewed exploration programs like Artemis through improved solar storm prediction.

 ESCAPADE is the latest of only three missions proceeding under the current round of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEX) program to conduct compelling planetary space science with small satellites and provide more opportunities for flight experience to the science community. The ESCAPADE mission, led by principal investigator Robert Lillis at the University of California, Berkeley, is the latest SIMPLEX mission to pass Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C), confirming it for implementation in preparation for launch to Mars in 2024. The ESCAPADE mission is managed by the NASA Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Division and will be the first Heliophysics mission to visit another planet.

Following deployment from a NASA-provided commercial launch vehicle, the pair of Photons will conduct an 11-month interplanetary cruise before inserting themselves into elliptical orbits around Mars to begin the science phase. Both Photons incorporate satellite subsystems developed and manufactured by Rocket Lab, including star trackers, reaction wheels, ranging transceivers for deep space navigation, and in-space propulsion systems. By leveraging vertically-integrated spacecraft manufacturing, the ESCAPADE mission will be delivered at a fraction of the cost of traditional planetary missions. This supports U.S. national strategy for Decadal-class science by increasing the pace of scientific discovery and enabling more sustainable crewed exploration by improving our understanding of the space environment.

Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, Peter Beck, says “ESCAPADE is an innovative mission that demonstrates that advanced interplanetary science is now within reach for a fraction of traditional costs, and we’re proud to make it possible with Photon,” he said. “Passing the Key Decision Point is a critical milestone in ESCAPADE’s development and is testament to the world-class science and engineering work of the UC Berkeley and Rocket Lab teams. We are delighted to receive the green light from NASA to proceed to flight.”

ESCAPADE is one of several missions beyond Earth orbit currently under development by Rocket Lab using the Photon spacecraft, including the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon in support of NASA’s Artemis program and Rocket Lab’s own privately-funded science mission to Venus.

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