Spaceflight Inc. Unveils Propulsive Orbital Transfer Vehicles to Launch Smallsats


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Spaceflight Inc., a leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, announced that it is developing two additional next-generation orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) that will debut in 2021. Its first, Sherpa-FX, will fly on a fully dedicated rideshare mission with SpaceX, dubbed SXRS-3 by Spaceflight, no earlier than December 2020. The next two ESPA-class space vehicles in the company’s portfolio are designed to provide more orbital diversification, including flexible manifest changes, deployment to multiple altitudes and orbital planes, and rapid launch solutions.

“When there are no launches that meet our customers’ exact needs, Spaceflight now will be able to provide more options to achieve their mission objectives,” said Grant Bonin, senior vice president of business development for Spaceflight Inc. “Our goal is to get our customers’ spacecraft delivered to orbit exactly when and where they want it, all the way to their final destination -- that last leg of the journey. Our new Sherpa OTVs enable us to provide that in-space delivery service, while keeping costs low and timelines short.”

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-NG (next generation) program includes:

  • Sherpa-FX, the first innovative orbital transfer vehicle to debut, is capable of executing multiple deployments, providing independent and detailed deployment telemetry, and flexible interfaces, all at a low cost. This free flyer separates from a launch vehicle prior to deploying any satellites, with satellite separations initiated by onboard avionics once clear of the launch vehicle. It is quickly configurable and can move from vehicle to vehicle and mission to mission. It includes independent, near real-time, worldwide telemetry via GlobalStar. It will carry 14 spacecraft, including hosted payloads, on the upcoming SXRS-3 mission.
  • Sherpa-LTC features a high thrust, bi-propellant, green propulsion subsystem integrated seamlessly within the available space of the original free flyer. By including this new propulsion technology from Benchmark Space Systems, Sherpa-LTC provides a low cost, rapid orbital transfer for many sizes of small spacecraft. It’s compatible with all launch vehicles Spaceflight currently works with, and enables reaching higher orbits quickly through SpaceX Starlink missions and similar flights. It is scheduled to fly the second half of 2021.
  • Sherpa-LTE is a high specific impulse (Isp), Xenon propellant, electric propulsion OTV. It builds on the Sherpa program by incorporating Apollo Constellation Engine (ACE), a low thrust, high efficiency, radiation hardened Hall thruster propulsion system developed by Apollo Fusion, Inc. As ACE systems are able to generate over 6 km/s of delta-V, Sherpa-LTE now has the capability to deliver customers to GEO, Cislunar, or Earth-escape orbits. The Sherpa-LTE provides a low-cost alternative to purchasing full direct-inject launch vehicles and will extend the ability of small launch vehicles that are currently under development to reach beyond low Earth orbit. The Sherpa-LTE is targeted to fly mid-2021.

“We have a successful track record of developing and deploying spacecraft from in-space vehicles,” added Curt Blake, president and CEO of Spaceflight. “Our first orbital free flyers were on the historic SSO-A mission, which successfully delivered 64 unique spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 to orbit. We are excited to build on our 10 years of launch experience learnings to develop these new advanced vehicles which will provide even more flexible launch options and customized orbital delivery for our customers.”

Spaceflight works with more than 10 current and future launch vehicles, including Falcon 9, Antares, Electron, Vega, and PSLV, to provide a variety of launch options to its customers. The company has launched more than 300 satellites across nearly 34 rideshare missions. In 2019, the company successfully executed nine missions, the most it’s ever launched in one year, sending more than 50 payloads to space.

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