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EscaPADE [Rocket Lab]

EscaPADE (Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers) by the University of California, Berkeley, is a twin-spacecraft Mars orbiter mission to study the structure, composition, variability and dynamics of Mars’ magnetosphere and atmospheric escape processes.

EscaPADE's science goals are:

  • Understand the processes controlling the structure of Mars’ hybrid magnetosphere and how it guides ion flows.
  • Understand how energy and momentum is transported from the solar wind through Mars’ magnetosphere.
  • Understand the processes controlling the flow of energy and matter into and out of the collisional atmosphere.

EscaPADE will measure magnetic field strength and topology, ion plasma distributions (separated into light and heavy masses), as well as suprathermal electron flows and thermal electron and ion densities from elliptical, 200 km × ~7000 km orbits.

There are three science experiments onboard each spacecraft:

  • EMAG is a magnetometer that will measure DC magnetic fields up to 1000 nT, mounted at the end and partway up the boom.
  • EESA is an electrostatic analyzer designed to measure suprathermal ions from 2 eV to 20 keV and suprathermal electrons from 3 eV to 10 keV. It is mounted on the upper deck of the spacecraft bus.
  • ELP is a Langmuir probe measuring plasma density from 20 - 30,000 particles per cubic cm and solar EUV flux from 5 - 20 milliwatts per square meter, and is mounted on the boom and on the spacecraft bus.

The twin spacecraft were originally to travel to Mars via solar electric propulsion as a rideshare with the Psyche metal-asteroid mission in August 2022, matching Mars’ heliocentric orbit until capture and spiral-down to science orbits.

Following an 11-month interplanetary cruise, the two Photon based satellites (named Blue and Gold) will insert themselves into elliptical orbits around Mars and conduct a 1-year primary science mission. ESCAPADE’s Photons will use the flight-proven Curie propulsion system to perform Mars orbit insertion and will be equipped with other subsystems that enable planetary science, including star trackers and reaction wheels for precision pointing from Rocket Lab’s Sinclair Interplanetary team, as well as ranging transceivers for deep space navigation.

The two spaceprobes were originally to be launched in 2022 as secondary payloads on a Falcon-Heavy (Block 5)(px) together with the Psyche and Janus missions. In September 2020 EscaPADE was removed from this launch, due to trouble getting the trajectory needs of all three passengers to work out together and EscaPADE would need to be redesigned with a larger propulsion system. EscaPADE will be re-manifested on an other launch.

Following the demanifest, the ESCAPADE mission was redesigned to be built on Rocket Lab's Photon bus. The two spacecraft are planned for launch in 2024 to Mars ridesharing aboard a NASA-provided commercial launch vehicle. A launch on a New Glenn was conotracted for a late 2024 launch.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Mars orbiter
Operator: University of California, Berkeley; NASA
Contractors: Rocket Lab
Equipment: EMAG, EESA, ELP
Configuration: Explorer (Photon-IP) bus
Propulsion: Curie engine
Power: Solar arrays, batteries
Lifetime: 1 year science mission
Orbit: Heliocentric, then 200 km × 700 km, 60° Mars orbit
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
EscaPADE A (SIMPLEx 4A) - 2024 CC SLC-36 New Glenn with EscaPADE B
EscaPADE B (SIMPLEx 4B) - 2024 CC SLC-36 New Glenn with EscaPADE A


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