Rocket Lab's launches to low-Earth orbit have become almost routine.

Last week, the Kiwi-American company launched its ninth mission (and fifth of this year) as one of its Electron rockets blasted off from Mahia, taking an observation satellite for Astro Digital 1000km into space.

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Now, founder and chief executive Peter Beck has revealed plans to take small satellites into geostationary orbit (at around 36,000km, allowing them to track the Earth's rotation and remain above a fixed point) and lunar orbits.


And Beck says it could be possible by late next year, thanks to the Photon "small spacecraft" or "satellite bus" his company has recently developed (seen in the Twitter video below; the gold ting that separates is a Bulk Maneuver Stage, which a Rocket Lab spokeswoman describes as "essentially a large propellant tank that gives us the fuel to travel the great distance to lunar orbit." )

The Photon is an evolution of Rocket Lab's earlier Kick Stage, which separates from the Electron and shepherds a satellite into its desired orbit.

Beck says Photon has the potential to triple the size of Rocket Lab's business.

Today, Rocket Lab charges US$5.7 million ($8.4m) for a standard launch.

The company says pricing for a geostationary or lunar launch will be tailored to individual customers.

But, as with its existing business, it'll be looking to hugely undercut incumbents.

"Like we did with Electron launches to low Earth orbit, we'll be making previously impossible missions attainable," a Rocket Lab spokeswoman says.

The moon is suddenly back in vogue, with various countries attempting lunar missions and NASA planning a return in 2024.


But the spokeswoman notes Rocket Lab is offering lunar flybys, but not landings.

And while one of Rocket Lab's customer's privately-held Moon Express wants to land hardware on the moon - as a precursor to mining it - the Silicon Valley-startup is actually one of Rocket Lab's first-wave of low-Earth orbit customers. It will use its own propulsion and guidance systems to get to the lunar surface.

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

Photon was designed for use in both low-Earth orbit and interplanetary missions, with radiation-tolerant avionics, deep space-capable communications and navigation technology, and high-performance space-storable propulsion capable of multiple restarts on orbit.

"Customers for this type of mission range from research organisations and commercial operators, to government pathfinding mission," the Rocket Lab spokeswoman says.