Spaceflight Inc Evolving Sherpa for Future Rideshare Missions

by Lee Kanayama

Spaceflight Inc. has announced that a brand new Orbital Transfer Vehicle, Sherpa-FX, will fly on a dedicated rideshare mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This is the first of many next-generation transfer vehicles created by Spaceflight Inc.

The Sherpa-FX is a next-generation transfer vehicle capable of multiple deployments, providing independent and detailed deployment telemetry, and featuring a flexible payload interface.  It is based on the Sherpa payload adapter used on the SSO-A mission in December 2018, which successfully delivered 64 spacecraft to orbit, also on a Falcon 9 launch.

(Lead image via Spaceflight Inc)

Sherpa allows the transfer of multiple small and micro satellites to be deployed into multiple orbits. Sherpa-FX is the first member of Spaceflight’s Sherpa-NG (next generation) program, which will consist of a family of space vehicles.

The Sherpa-FX will fly on a fully dedicated rideshare mission on a Falcon 9 rocket. Sherpa’s mission, called SXRS-3, will carry 16 spacecraft for multiple different organizations. Customers include iQPS Inc, Loft Orbital, HawkEye 360, NASA, Astrocast, and the University of South Florida.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launches the SSO-A mission for Spaceflight Inc in December 2018 from SLC-4E, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California – via Jack Beyer for NSF

The Sherpa will also carry multiple hosted payloads, for customers including Celestis Inc, NearSpace Launch, Keplerian Technologies, Tiger Innovations, and Space Domain Awareness Inc. Many of these hosted payloads are technology demonstrations that are designed to help identify and track spacecraft once deployed.

These technologies will help Spaceflight customers mitigate space congestion and provide the foundation of effective and responsible space traffic management.

“Spaceflight is committed to providing unmatched launch flexibility for customers — whether that’s re-manifesting on a different vehicle due to delays, deployments to exotic or special orbits, or the ability to fly and operate hosted payloads,” said Grant Bonin, senior vice president of business development for Spaceflight Inc.

“In-space transportation is essential to meeting our customer’s specific needs to get their spacecraft delivered to orbit exactly when and where they want it. If you think of typical rideshare as sharing a seat on a train headed to a popular destination, our next-generation Sherpa program enables us to provide a more complete ‘door-to-door transportation service.’”

SXRS-3 is the third planned SpaceX rideshare mission, as announced in April 2019. The first, SXRS-1, will launch two BlackSky Earth observation satellites with the 10th batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, no earlier than July. A multi-launch agreement between Spaceflight and SpaceX was announced in June 2020.

The SXRS-3 mission will fly on the SpaceX SSO-1 launch, no earlier than December 2020. SSO-1 is the first of many dedicated rideshare missions to Sun Synchronous Orbit that SpaceX will launch under their rideshare program. The rideshare program allows low-cost rides to space on Falcon 9 rockets, including both dedicated missions to Sun Synchronous Orbit and secondary payloads on Starlink missions to Low Earth Orbit.

“We aim to make getting to space easier, faster, and with more reliability than ever before,” added Curt Blake, president, and CEO of Spaceflight. “To do that, we have to build flexibility into everything we offer — from our contracting practices to integration processes that enable spacecraft to move seamlessly between launch vehicles, to providing customers with a wide range of mission services.

Two BlackSky Global Earth observation satellites before encapsulation ahead of the SXRM-1 mission – via SpaceX

Now we’re solving some of the industry’s most pressing challenges by providing greater spacecraft management awareness and customized orbital delivery. We couldn’t be more excited to expand our comprehensive suite of launch services to support our customers’ mission needs.”

Spaceflight works with many other companies for other rideshare flights. Once SXRS-1 launches, the next confirmed Spaceflight mission will be the SSMS mission no earlier than August 17, 2020. Arianespace will launch the SSMS mission, which is the Vega rocket’s first dedicated rideshare mission. Many payloads launching on SSMS are contracted under Spaceflight.

Since its founding in 2010, Spaceflight allows quick launch options for multiple customers. They have launched over 270 satellites across 30 flights.

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