Rocket Lab, which is nearing the close of its SPAC deal to go public, on Tuesday announced it won an early contract that may send two of its Photon spacecraft on a mission to Mars in 2024.

NASA, under its Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, awarded Rocket Lab with a design contract for the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission. The goal is to send to spacecraft into Martian orbit to study the makeup of the planet's magnetosphere, to better understand how solar wind removes atmosphere over time.

While the mission's total cost has yet to be released, Rocket Lab's microwave oven-sized Photon spacecraft represent a low cost method of conducting an interplanetary mission, which often cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more. Photon is the core of Rocket Lab's space systems business, with the company expanding last year beyond building rockets into building versatile spacecraft as well.

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