WASHINGTON — A week after the launch of its first space tug, Momentus is still dealing with “anomalies” with the vehicle, but the company’s chief executive remains optimistic those issues will be resolved.
Among the payloads on the SpaceX Transporter-5 rideshare mission that launched on a Falcon 9 May 25 was Vigoride-3, the first tug developed by Momentus. The vehicle, primarily a technology demonstration mission, carried nine small satellites from three customers for later deployment.
In a statement released late May 27, the company said that while it had established contact with Vigoride, it had “some initial anomalies” engineers were working to resolve. The company said it obtained a special temporary authority from the Federal Communications Commission to use “an unplanned frequency” to assist in resolving those problems.
Appearing at a June 1 webinar by IPO-Edge, John Rood, chief executive of Momentus, said the company was continuing to deal with “some anomalous behaviors” with Vigoride, but declined to discuss specific problems. “It would be premature for me to comment on the details because the mission is underway and we’re working towards a resolution,” he said.
One issue is apparently with the communications system on the vehicle that required the special temporary authority from the FCC. In a filing, the company said that it determined the communications equipment on Vigoride-3 “is erroneously operating on different center frequencies” that prevented it from using frequencies originally licensed for the mission. The spacecraft was licensed to operate at an uplink frequency of 2,075 megahertz and downlink frequency of 8,200 megahertz, but the spacecraft was operating at 2,067.5 and 8,250 megahertz, respectively.
The company didn’t explain in the filing why the spacecraft was tuned to the wrong frequencies, but asked permission to operate at the other frequencies for 30 days. It said it would work to set the spacecraft to the originally authorized frequencies.
Rood said the problems don’t extend to the spacecraft’s main propulsion system, the microwave electrothermal thruster. “It’s too early in the mission,” he said. “We’ve not yet attempted a test with it.”
He said the problems that Vigoride has suffered are not unexpected, comparing this first flight of the vehicle to the sea trials of a new naval vessel. “Obviously, we would have preferred not to have issues,” he said. “However, it’s not uncommon that there are these kinds of issues on the first flight of an article in space.”
“We continue to work hard to address those anomalies,” he said, but didn’t give an estimate for when he expected them to be resolved. “This is going to be something that we’re going to evaluate on an ongoing basis.”
Despite the problems, he said Momentus was able to deploy two satellites on Vigoride, both from FOSSA Systems, a Spanish company developing an internet-of-things constellation using “PocketQube” satellites five centimeters on a side. FOSSA Systems said it had seven such satellites on the Vigoride tug. An eighth PocketQube is for an undisclosed customer, while the tug also carries SelfieSat, a two-unit cubesat developed by Orbit NTNU, a Norwegian student space organization.