A 'Space Tug' Firm Is Launching 13 'Green' Payloads Into Two Orbits

Even Czech Aerospace is in on it.
Chris Young

Seattle-based private space firm Spaceflight Inc. announced on Tuesday, Nov. 9, that it will launch two payloads to two separate orbits for the first time, a press statement reveals.

The company is known for its line of orbital transfer vehicles (OTV), or space tugs, called Sherpa, which add greater flexibility to small payload deployment in space.

The OTVs launch out of a rocket after reaching orbit, taking these payloads to their final destination. By doing this, they allow smaller companies to share the costs of a small payload launch and avoid the exorbitant cost of developing their own propulsion system.

For the upcoming launch, Spaceflight Inc will use a new type of space tug, the Sherpa LTC1, which features a chemical propulsion system. The LTC1 is the third Sherpa model the company has revealed in the last year, and it will launch aboard SpaceX's Transporter-3 launch in January 2022. Another model, called the Sherpa-LTE, uses an electric propulsion system and was launched aboard the SpaceX Transporter-2 mission in June. 

New space tug model uses 'green propulsion'

For the upcoming Sherpa-LTC1 missions, the space tug will put 13 customer spacecraft into two separate orbits, in a first in Spaceflight Inc.'s history. It will deploy nine smallsats in a higher orbit before descending to a lower orbit and releasing four CubeSats. The mission will serve customers including NASA, Umbra Space, and the Czech Aerospace Research Centre. 

"Each of our Sherpa launches this year has incrementally brought vital learnings that have prepared us to launch Sherpa-LTC1 to execute our first in-space multi-destination mission," Ryan Olcott, mission director for Spaceflight said in the company's statement.

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A 'Space Tug' Firm Is Launching 13 'Green' Payloads Into Two Orbits
A rendering of Spaceflight's Sherpa-LTC1 space tug. Source: Spaceflight Inc.

"This milestone mission validates our ability to provide customers with more customized launch options to achieve their mission objectives and get them to their final destination," Olcott continued. "Even when there are no launches that initially meet their specific mission needs." 

Spaceflight Inc.'s new LTC1 space tug uses a "green" propulsion system developed by Benchmark Space Systems. According to a statement by Spaceflight announcing its partnership with Benchmark last year, the system uses non-toxic chemical propulsion, meaning it will help the space industry to reduce its footprint and cause less damage to the environment. The company also announced earlier this year that it will reveal another Sherpa space tug, the Sherpa-ES, for a lunar flyby mission next year.

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