Momentus Vigoride tug
Momentus announced May 5 it received its final regulatory approval, an FAA payload review, for the launch of its first Vigoride tug later this month. Credit: Momentus

PASADENA, Calif. — The first orbital transfer vehicle launched by Momentus continues to experience problems and the company says its confidence that the spacecraft can complete its mission has “substantially declined.”

In a June 13 statement, the company said it was still trying to fix problems with its Vigoride-3 tug after its launch May 25 on the SpaceX Transporter-5 rideshare mission. The company previously said the tug had deployed two of nine small satellites it carried but had suffered “some anomalous behaviors” about which the company offered few details. Those problems prevented other planned tests of the spacecraft, including its propulsion system.

The company said one issue with the spacecraft was a problem with solar arrays that failed to deploy as expected after launch. This caused both power and communications issues, the company said, although other body-mounted solar arrays did work correctly.

Momentus said it was working with the company which provided the arrays, which it did not identify, and together “have identified what we believe is the root cause of the arrays not operating as intended.” It added that it also identified potential root causes for other, unspecified anomalies with the spacecraft.

The failure of the solar arrays to deploy has reduced power and limited communication. The company did have initial contact with Vigoride-3 and was able to confirm the two satellite deployments, but even with Federal Communications Commission approval of the use of unplanned frequencies it has not been able to maintain two-way communications.

“We are continuing efforts to address the anomalies,” the company stated, “but our level of confidence that we will be able to deploy additional customer satellites from Vigoride and perform some planned operations of the vehicle on this test and demonstration mission has substantially declined.”

Momentus had emphasized that Vigoride-3 was an experimental vehicle and, while carrying some customer payloads intended to generate a small amount of revenue, was primarily a technology demonstration mission.

“During this first launch of the Vigoride vehicle to space, we have learned a great deal and plan to incorporate improvements in other Vigoride vehicles currently being assembled and ground tested. This was the primary purpose of this initial Vigoride mission,” John Rood, chief executive of Momentus, said in the statement. “As we stated prior to the launch, we fully expected to experience challenges during this test and demonstration mission and to learn from them, which is what we are doing.”

The company said it would proceed with plans to fly payloads on future SpaceX rideshare missions, starting with Transporter-6 in November. The company is working on other Vigoride vehicles, but has not ruled out flying payloads on future missions that can be deployed from an adapter without propulsion, like other rideshare providers. Momentus had a payload on a second port deployed from such an adapter provided by an unnamed “trusted partner.”

“Like other companies that have worked through initial challenges to create successful capabilities, our engineering team at Momentus is focused on learning as much as possible from the remainder of the current Vigoride mission and utilizing industry best practices to implement corrective actions and lessons learned for our upcoming missions,” Rood said.

Shares in Momentus closed down 2.2% in trading June 14. The company’s shares have fallen by nearly 40% since June 6.

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...