NASA chooses Rocket Lab for ESCAPADE Mars mission

NASA has given the green light to a new Martian mission led by the University of California Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory called ESCAPADE. The mission has a goal of studying the magnetosphere of Mars. NASA has also confirmed that Rocket Lab spacecraft will be used for the mission. Rocket Lab will provide a pair of Photon spacecraft.The company has announced that it has begun the final mission design and will begin manufacturing the two interplanetary Photon spacecraft for the ESCAPADE mission. Rocket Lab says its rockets will allow it to deliver Decadal-class science to NASA at a fraction of the typical cost of that type of mission.

ESCAPADE, the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, will orbit a pair of Photon spacecraft around Mars and will gather data to help scientists understand Mars in detail not currently available. ESCAPADE is NASA's latest mission in its Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration program known as SIMPLEX, with a goal of making planetary exploration cheaper.

The principal investigator for the mission is Robert Lillis from UC Berkeley, and the mission is the latest of the SIMPLEX missions to move past Key Decision Point-C. The mission is currently being prepared for a launch in 2024 and will be managed by NASA's Heliophysics Division. ESCAPADE is the division's first mission to another planet.

NASA is providing the launch vehicle for the mission, and after launch, the Photon rockets will perform the 11-month-long interplanetary cruise ending in an elliptical orbit around Mars. Once in orbit, the science phase of the mission will begin. Rocket Lab has developed satellite subsystems for the mission in-house, including the raging transceivers for deep space navigation, star trackers, reaction wheels, and propulsion systems. By developing and building everything in-house, Rocket Lab says it can conduct missions at a significantly lower cost.