Rocket Lab reveals that its last Electron launch included a secret satellite

Rocket Lab, the private space company that is launching rockets every handful of weeks, has revealed that its most recent launch included a secret payload developed by the company itself. Called 'Photon,' this payload was a demonstration of Rocket Lab's latest business initiative, one that will enable the company to offer 'end-to-end space solutions' for customers who need them. The Photon satellite is the first that was designed and built in-house by Rocket Lab.

The secret payload was launched as part of Rocket Lab's 14th Electron rocket launch, the one titled 'I Can't Believe It's Not Optical.' The launch took place from New Zealand on August 31 and was a success. What we didn't know at the time was that Rocket Lab secretly deployed its own payload in the form of its Kick Stage modified to feature a new satellite mode.

This took place after the Electron mission deployed the small customer payload it was carrying — the one the public was told about. Photon is, the company explains, essentially a two-in-one spacecraft; it first worked to deploy the customer payloads, then it switched over into a satellite mode in order to carry out its own mission.

This demonstration vehicle was named 'First Light,' and it was used to prove that Rocket Lab can offer its customers end-to-end space mission capabilities. Talking about the achievement, Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck said:

We started with launch and solved it, releasing small satellites from the time and orbit constraints experienced when flying on larger launch vehicles. Now we've simplified satellites too. Launching the first Photon mission marks a major turning point for space users – it's now easier to launch and operate a space mission than it has ever been. When our customers choose a launch-plus-spacecraft mission with Electron and Photon, they immediately eliminate the complexity, risk, and delays associated with having to build their own satellite hardware and procure a separate launch.