Orbiter, an orbital transfer vehicle being developed by Launcher, will be able to carry up to 90U of cubesats or other smallsats, and fly on both Launcher Light and SpaceX's Falcon 9. Credit: Launcher

WASHINGTON — Launcher has purchased slots on three more SpaceX rideshare missions for its Orbiter tug as it continues development of a small launch vehicle.

Launcher announced Feb. 7 it signed a multi-launch contract with SpaceX for three additional missions of its Orbiter tug. Those tugs will fly on Falcon 9 rideshare missions in January, April and October of 2023.

Launcher’s first Orbiter tug will launch on SpaceX’s Transporter-6 rideshare mission in October 2022 under a contract announced last June when the company revealed its plans to develop Orbiter. The vehicle is designed to deploy cubesats and other smallsats in their desired orbits as well as host payloads for missions lasting up to two years.

“We have chosen SpaceX to be our provider in 2023 and beyond, due to their incredible reliability, performance, industry-leading price, and mission flexibility, which allows us to provide the lowest-cost Orbiter mission services to our customers,” Max Haot, chief executive of Launcher, said in a statement.

Launcher offers launch and orbit transfer services for smallsats for between $8,000 and $25,000 per kilogram, depending on mission requirements. It also will sell a dedicated Orbiter mission for $400,000 plus SpaceX flight costs.

The company development of Orbiter is on track for its first mission this fall. The company recently announced a series of tests of the vehicle’s main engine, a thruster that uses ethane and nitrous oxide as propellants, including one test where the engine was fired for two and a half minutes.

Orbiter is one of several vehicles designed to provide “last mile” in-space transportation services for smallsats launched on rideshare missions like SpaceX, moving satellites from an initial transfer orbit provided by the rideshare launch to their final orbits. D-Orbit, Momentus and Spaceflight are among the other companies that are developing or have flown similar vehicles.

Launcher developed Orbiter not just for rideshare missions on larger vehicles but also for its own Launcher Light small launch vehicle in development. Haot told SpaceNews that the company was making “great progress” in testing of the E-2 engine that powers the vehicle’s first stage and that the first launch of the vehicle is scheduled for March 2024.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...