WASHINGTON — Seeking to expand the satellite-launching capabilities of the International Space Station beyond cubesats, three companies announced plans April 8 to offer a much larger spacecraft for deployment from the station.
The FeatherCraft spacecraft, developed by Surrey Satellite Technology U.S. (SST-US), the American subsidiary of British smallsat pioneer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., can weigh up to 100 kilograms and is designed to launch from a new deployer to be installed on the station later this year.
Each FeatherCraft spacecraft will be able to accommodate payloads weighing up to 45 kilograms, with average power of 50 watts. SST-US says it can go from contract signing to launch of a FeatherCraft spacecraft in 19 months, building the spacecraft at its facilities in Englewood, Colorado.
“FeatherCraft will reduce payload integration and testing time for our customers, which facilitates rapid and cost-effective deployment of their payloads,” SST-US Chief Executive John Paffett said in an April 8 release announcing the FeatherCraft design.
Like cubesats currently launched from the ISS, FeatherCraft satellites will be shipped to the station inside cargo resupply spacecraft. The satellites will be deployed from the station using a new system called Kaber developed by NanoRacks. The Kaber deployer, designed to accommodate spacecraft weighing up to 100 kilograms, will be delivered to the ISS later this year on a SpaceX cargo flight.
FeatherCraft spacecraft will also have electric propulsion provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which will allow the spacecraft to raise their orbits once deployed to the station. While cubesats ejected from the station typically reenter in less than a year, FeatherCraft will be able to raise their orbits to altitudes as high as 550 kilometers, giving them orbital lifetimes of up to five years.
SST-US did not reveal FeatherCraft’s price in its announcement. However, at a Feb. 17 ISS workshop here hosted by NanoRacks, SST-US engineer Michael Brown said the base cost of the spacecraft, including launch and communications services, is $6 million. Upgrades, including additional power, improved pointing and attitude control, and addition onboard storage could increase the price up to $12 million.
While SST-US hasn’t disclosed any customers for the spacecraft, Brown said the spacecraft could support a variety of missions, including space and Earth science and technology development. “FeatherCraft is very capable at integrating multiple types of payloads,” he said.