Rocket Lab has taken its next leap announcing today it will offer an in-house satellite platform that can be launched from its Electron vehicle.

The Photon space ship could treble the New Zealand-founded company's revenue and take it closer to a stock market listing. Morgan Stanley has picked Rocket Lab, which it says is cash flow positive, as a winner in the small-rocket race to space.

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck said the satellite platform, known as a ''bus'' could be an even bigger disruptor to the space industry than the Electron, a small, comparatively inexpensive way of getting equipment into low-Earth orbit.

The Photon was designed to be an integrated part of Rocket Lab missions from the start of the Electron programme.


"Small satellite operators want to focus on providing data or services from space, but building satellite hardware is a significant barrier to achieving this,'' he said.

The time, resources and expertise required to build hardware could draw small satellite operators away from their core purpose, and delay their path to orbit and revenue.

''We're already taking orders and working with customers on it,'' Beck told the Herald.

''Electron was a pretty disruptive solution in the industry; this is as big if not bigger as a disruptor. We're talking a huge amount of time-saving.''

Manufactured at Rocket Lab's Huntington Beach, California headquarters, a Photon spacecraft can be launched on Electron in as little as four months from order to orbit.

The available payload mass is 170kg. Photon itself weighs about 40kg. Image / Supplied
The available payload mass is 170kg. Photon itself weighs about 40kg. Image / Supplied

Photon is a highly-advanced evolution of the Electron launch vehicle's Kick Stage, which has been successfully deployed on four orbital Electron missions.

Powered by the company's trademarked Curie engine, Photon can support missions with an orbital life span of up to five years.

Beck said most satellite operators wouldn't want equipment in orbit for any longer.

''It's atypical (for a satellite) to live longer than that - most don't want to last for more than five years because obsolescence becomes a real issue.''


Rocket Lab would launch a trial Photon craft in the last quarter of this year.

''We'll demonstrate a high-end version of Photon that you can get your laptop to dial in and get to it to take photos.''

Customer missions on Photon are planned for next year and Beck said there had already been inquiries about it.

The firm will in the meantime continue with its traditional launches where a customer provides the entire satellite.

The next launch at Mahia Peninsula scheduled for later this month will be for the US Air Force of a 180kg load including a cube-sat to test out miniaturised avionics, another to help evaluate efforts to track space junk.

The last launch was for a Pentagon research agency, Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

Asked whether Rocket Lab had stepped up security in line with the country's heightened threat level, Beck said there hadn't been any change.

''We've always run extremely high-security levels - it's the nature of the technology.''

The Photon satellite developed by Rocket Lab. Image / Supplied
The Photon satellite developed by Rocket Lab. Image / Supplied

Rocket Lab has been identified by Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas as making up for the lack of high profile billionaire backers with its history of successful launches and outlook for profitability.

Rocket Lab was among "the best positioned to take advantage of the smaller private satellite launch market," Jonas said, citing the convenience and low cost of high-frequency launches.

Beck said interest in Rocket Lab was growing as people realised other ''paper rocket companies' weren't going to fly.

''We're starting to see some consolidation in the rocket industry - people are realising this game is not an easy one.''

Asked whether there were plans to go public Beck said he wanted to make sure the company was on the right trajectory first.

We have no timeline on any of that. There are certain things we want to achieve and Photon is part of that allows us to triple the size of the business. We'll do that and who knows where it goes from there.

He said the company was already cash flow positive.

''We've ended up doing very well.''