Launcher to develop orbital transfer vehicle

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WASHINGTON — Small launch vehicle company Launcher announced June 15 that it is also working on an orbital transfer vehicle for small satellites that it plans to use on both its own rocket as well as SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Launcher, which announced a $11.7 million funding round June 2, said its Orbiter tug will be able to carry up to 150 kilograms of payload, either in the form of 90 units worth of cubesat deployers or larger satellites using standard smallsat separation systems. Orbiter can also accommodate hosted payloads with power, communications, and other capabilities.

Orbiter is equipped with a chemical propulsion system using ethylene and nitrous oxide propellants. The vehicle will initially provide 500 meters per second of delta-v, or change in velocity, but that can be increased by adding more propellant tanks.

Orbiter is intended for use on Launcher Light, the small launch vehicle the company is developing, with a first launch projected in 2024. However, Orbiter is also capable of flying on other launch vehicles using an ESPA Grande adapter ring. Orbiter’s first mission is scheduled for October 2022, when it will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission.

That approach, Launcher argues, gives customers the flexibility to use the same tug both for low-cost rideshare flight opportunities, such as what SpaceX offers, as well as for dedicated small rockets like Launcher Lite.

“Orbiter delivers the best of both worlds: the ability to maximize and tailor launch opportunities for your constellation using SpaceX’s rideshare program, as well as the option to design additional complimentary missions on a small, dedicated Launcher rocket when orbit requirements or schedules dictate,” Max Haot, chief executive of Launcher, said in a statement.

Launcher is the latest company to announce plans to develop an orbital transfer vehicle, but the first to offer it for both its own launch vehicle and rideshare missions on other vehicles. Rocket Lab uses the kick stage of its Electron rocket as a transfer vehicle to deploy payloads into different orbits, and has modified it into the Photon satellite bus. Firefly Aerospace is developing a tug called the Space Utility Vehicle that will fly on its Alpha rocket.

Other companies have developed tugs designed for cubesats flying on rideshare missions. They include Spaceflight’s Sherpa, D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier, and Momentus’ Vigoride tug. Some of those tugs will fly on the next SpaceX dedicated rideshare mission, Transporter-2, later this month, although regulatory issues kept Momentus from flying its first two vehicles on that launch.