Mars SmallSat operation receives another opportunity with Rocket Lab


A NASA-funded SmallSat operation to Mars that lost its ride last year could receive a new life via a partnership with Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab announces on 15 June that it won a deal from the Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) of the University of California Berkeley. This is in order to commence design work on a new version of the EscaPADE operation to Mars. The two EscaPADE space shuttle will go into orbit all-around Mars to examine the interface of the solar wind with the earth’s atmosphere.

EscaPADE stands for Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers

EscaPADE is of three missions chosen by NASA in 2019 as part of its Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program of SmallSat terrestrial operations. The initial plan for EscaPADE was to unveil as a secondary payload on the Psyche operation to the main-belt asteroid of the same name in 2022. EscaPADE would have been cut off when Psyche made a flyby of Mars on its way to the asteroid.

Though, a shift in launch vehicles for Psyche, from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to Falcon Heavy, altered the trajectory factors of the operation.

At a preliminary design assessment for EscaPADE in August 2020, the organization agreed that change made it –

“No longer feasible to manifest EscaPADE as part of the Psyche operation.”

NASA postponed an assessment of EscaPADE, known as Key Decision Point C. It is delayed to half this year as it looks for a new ride. Previously this year, there were allegations in the terrestrial science community. Rumors that Rocket Lab would be engaged in some way in a revised EscaPADE operation. Agency executives said at the latest meetings that an assessment of EscaPADE was planned for this summer. However, presented few other updates regarding the operation.

The announcement implies a wider overhaul for the operation than just a switch in launch services. The EscaPADE spacecraft was initially described as spacecraft 60 by 70 by 90 centimeters in size. And weighing no further than 90 kilograms each.

As per the Rocket Lab announcement, the EscaPADE spacecraft will be built on Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite bus. It is also known as Blue and Gold. The Curie engine utilizes Photon and the kick stage for its Electron rocket. This will inject the spacecraft into orbit all around Mars.

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