Rocket Lab Photon launcher

Rocket Lab Photon launcher


The Rocket Lab Photon launcher for small spacecraft is based on the heritage Electron launch vehicle Kick Stage, leveraging numerous components that have significant flight heritage, including the Curie engine, an in-house designed and developed in-space propulsion system. The Photon flies as the upper stage of Electron, eliminating the parasitic mass of deployed spacecraft and enabling full utilization of the fairing.

Rocket Lab is a public American aerospace manufacturer and launch service provider for small satellites, with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary. The Company developed a sub-orbital sounding rocket named Ātea and is currently operating a lightweight orbital rocket: The Electron, providing dedicated launches for SmallSats and CubeSats. Rocket Lab is also developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle named Neutron.

The company was founded in New Zealand in 2006 by engineer Peter Beck and has been servicing the aerospace industry since 2018, when its Electron rocket made its first orbital launch and deployed customer satellites for Earth imaging, weather monitoring and ship tracking.

The Electron test program began in May 2017, with commercial flights announced by the company to occur at a price listed in early 2018 as 5.7 million USD. Launching from Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand, the rocket’s test flights took place on 25 May 2017 and 21 January 2018, while its first commercial flight took place on November 11th2018. On 16 December 2018, Rocket Lab launched their first mission for NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites progam (ELaNa-program).

In 2013 the Company established its headquarters in California in the USA. In March 2021, Rocket lab went public and is trading on the Nasdaq.

In May 2023 the company acquired the rocket factory of SmallSat launcher Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, California, including the machinery, equipment and lease. Virgin Orbit filed for Bankruptcy in April 2023 after the failed ‘Start-Me-Up’ mission on January 9th, 2023. Virgin Orbit laid off the majority of its workers in March. The reduction in workforce followed after pausing operations mid-March after the company was unable to secure new funding.

Rocket Lab has become the only private competitor to Elon Musk’s SpaceX that is reliably conducting regular launches, though their target markets have typically been different. Where SpaceX‘ Falcon 9 rockets can carry payloads up to 50,000 pounds (22,680kgs), Rocket Labs Electron can only handle payloads up to 500 pounds. As such, the rocket specialists largely complement one another rather than truly competing against each other.