Rocket Lab and Ecliptic agree to use Electron kick stage as a payload platform


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Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has struck a deal with Ecliptic Enterprises, the company that provides the on-board launch cameras for ULA and others, for using the Electron upper kick stage as a platform for payloads.

For those missions designated by Rocket Lab to accommodate hosted payloads, Electron’s capable kick stage, proven on the Electron’s first successful launch to orbit in January this year (“Still Testing”), will serve as the platform for one to several hosted payloads per mission, providing a structure for payload mounting, power, command and telemetry functions and attitude control. Ecliptic will deliver fully integrated hosted payloads to Rocket Lab for final integration onto Electron’s kick stage. Once in orbit, Ecliptic avionics will control all hosted payload operations and related data handling; Ecliptic will also manage the end-to-end mission service and experience for its customers. Ecliptic’s U.S. domestic and international customers will be from commercial and government sectors, as well as from academia, media and non-profit arenas.

This is fascinating. The whole reason the smallsat rocket industry is booming is because smallsat builders no longer wanted to be secondary payloads on the bigger rockets. They needed smaller rockets specifically catered to their needs as the primary payload. Because of this, Rocket Lab and Vector and a host of other smallsat rocket companies are now racing to fulfill that need.

Yet, Rocket Lab is now going to offer space on its tiny Electron rocket for even smaller secondary payloads. Ecliptic will act to sign up and coordinate the secondary payloads.

There is money to be made in space, and this competition to make it is creating opportunities for everyone. If you build a very small, very cheap cubesat in your garage, you likely can now go to Ecliptic to arrange to fly it on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

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5 comments

  • As a matter of fact, I am building a PocketQube satellite for launch in Q3 2019. Yes, I am working in a small shop – just behind the garage. Nothing fancy but the price was right. I am working with Alba Orbital and the flight is scheduled on the Electron. These are very exciting times.

  • Edward

    Related: the smallsat rocket company Firefly is doing well, after emerging from bankruptcy a year ago:
    https://spacenews.com/firefly-back-in-full-force-following-last-years-near-death-experience/

    There is money to be made in space, which means that there is a need to get the necessary hardware into space. Although there are several dozen small launch rocket companies attempting to jump start this market, only a small number have both the financing and the advanced technology to succeed.

    Joe Latrell,
    I hope you keep us informed as to how well your project is going. It would be exciting to watch your launch live.

  • Joe Latrell: Super cool! I like Edward want you to keep us informed of your progress. What exactly is the PocketQube intended to do once in orbit?

  • This first one is just to see if it can be done. I plan to have it take a couple images and relay data regarding the orientation methods I am planning to use (gravity and magnetic fields). If it works, I am hoping to get funding to develop a small series of satellites to track global water use.

    It is also a good way to test some of the materials I think would make spacecraft lighter and cheaper.

    I will keep everyone posted.

  • To clarify a detail about the Ecliptic-Rocket Lab agreement, what Ecliptic is coordinating are payloads that remain attached to the Electron rocket’s third stage and operate without ever separating from the stage (“hosted payloads”).

    Rocket Lab will continue to focus on accommodating all payloads that desire to separate from the third stage to enter orbit as an independent satellite. From Joe’s comments above I assume that his PocketQube satellite fits the latter definition.

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