Rocket Lab has revealed plans to begin extended range Photon satellite platform missions to the Moon and beyond.

The company aims to open access to medium, geostationary and lunar orbits for small satellites.

The announcement comes less than two years after the company’s Electron launch vehicle first lifted off payloads to a low-Earth orbit (LEO).

In order to successfully complete the extended missions, Rocket Lab will bring together its Electron launch vehicle, the Photon spacecraft platform, and a bulk manoeuvre stage.

This combination of capabilities will help deliver small spacecraft to a lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points or lunar orbit.

In future, larger payloads could be explored for launch to cis-lunar space, including as high as geostationary orbit (GEO).

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said: “Small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon – they play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions.

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“Just like LEO small spacecraft, many potential exploration instruments and full satellites are on shelves waiting for launch to deeper space. In the same way we opened access to LEO for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.”

The company aims to begin providing launch services for customers using the new combined solution as early as the fourth quarter of next year.

Photon is designed for both LEO and interplanetary missions. Apart from being radiation-tolerant, the platform is equipped with deep space-capable communications and navigation technology.

Last week, Rocket Lab successfully launched the ‘As The Crow Flies’ mission, marking the company’s ninth Electron mission.