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Spaceflight unveils two next-gen propulsive orbital transfer vehicles


Spaceflight Inc is developing two additional next-generation orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) that will minimize the impact of extended development timelines and schedule delays while providing increased launch flexibility. The OTVs are expected to be unveiled around middle of 2021.

Earlier this year, Spaceflight announced the Sherpa-FX vehicle, the debut vehicle of the Sherpa-NG program. It is scheduled to launch on a fully dedicated rideshare mission with SpaceX around December and will carry 14 customer spacecraft, including two hosted payloads. Sherpa-FX is capable of executing multiple deployments, providing independent and detailed deployment telemetry, and flexible interfaces, all at a rock-bottom costs. While the free-flyer separates from a launch vehicle prior to deploying any satellites (satellite separations are initiated by onboard avionics once clear of the launch vehicle), it is also 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. 

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Next year’s two ESPA-class space vehicles are designed to provide more orbital diversification, including flexible manifest changes, deployment to multiple altitudes and orbital planes, and rapid launch solutions. 

“We have a successful track record of developing and deploying spacecraft from in-space vehicles,” added Curt Blake, President and CEO, 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.” 

Sherpa-LTC scheduled to fly the second half of 2021. It features a high thrust, bi-propellant, green propulsion subsystem integrated seamlessly within the available space of the original free flyer. This new propulsion technology enables Sherpa-LTC to provide a low-cost, rapid orbital transfer for a wide variety of sizes of small satellites. It is compatible with all launch vehicles Spaceflight currently works with and enables reaching higher orbits quickly through SpaceX Starlink missions and similar flights.

The other one, the Sherpa-LTE, which is targeted to fly mid-2021, will provide 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. It 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 has the capability to deliver customers to GEO, Cislunar, or Earth-escape orbits.

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“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, said Grant Bonin, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Spaceflight.

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, and has launched more than 300 satellites across nearly 34 rideshare missions.

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