Launch services provider Spaceflight Inc. said Tuesday it will deploy customer spacecraft to two distinct orbits for the first time, as the company seeks to expand the capabilities of its Sherpa line of orbital transfer vehicles.
Orbital transfer vehicles (OTV) have become a popular way for satellites to reach their final destinations in orbit, allowing smaller space companies to forego the cost and mass of having their own propulsion system while also splitting the cost of an OTV -- similar to how SpaceX lets companies split the cost of launch under its rideshare mission program.
Seattle-based Spaceflight aims to execute the maneuver using a new type of Sherpa space tug outfitted with a chemical propulsion system. It is calling the new vehicle the Sherpa-LTC1, and it marks the third type of Sherpa OTV that the company has debuted in the last 12 months. Spaceflight also developed a Sherpa tug equipped with an electric propulsion system, which it calls the Sherpa-LTE, that flew on the SpaceX Transporter-2 mission in June, and a Sherpa-LT it debuted in 2020.
Sherpa-LTC1 will head to space next year, aboard the SpaceX Transporter 3 launch that’s scheduled to depart from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in January. The space tug will put a collective 13 customer spacecraft into two separate orbits. First, the Sherpa OTV will deploy nine smallsat payloads before maneuvering to a lower altitude to deploy the remaining four CubeSats.
Customers for the mission include Capella Space, Umbra Space, Lynk Global, Inc., Kleos Space, NASA, Czech Aerospace Research Centre in partnership with Spacemanic, Space Products and Innovation (SPiN) and Portland State Aerospace Society.
The new space tug uses a “green” propulsion system developed by Benchmark Space Systems, which the company says will enable rapid orbital transfer for many different sized spacecrafts. According to Grant Bonin, SVP of business development at Spaceflight, "maneuvers in LEO are just the beginning. These capabilities and services will play a crucial role in accessing other orbits beyond LEO and developing in-space transportation and various mission services."
In September, Spaceflight announced it would debut yet another Sherpa vehicle, the Sherpa-ES, on a lunar flyby mission next year.