Momentus engineers pose with the company's Vigoride-6 orbital transfer vehicle before shipment to Vandenberg Space Force Base for launch in April. Credit: Momentus

WASHINGTON — In-space transportation company Momentus is gearing up for a key test of one orbital transfer vehicle as it ships another for launch next month.

In a March 7 earnings call, John Rood, chief executive of Momentus, said the company’s Vigoride-5 tug, launched in January, was in good condition as it went through a “deliberate commissioning process” in orbit. The tug carries a single smallsat for Singapore-based Qosmosys as well as a hosted payload from Caltech to test technologies for space-based solar power.

That testing has gone better than for Momentus’s first vehicle, Vigoride-3. That spacecraft experienced communications problems and a solar array that failed to deploy after its May 2022 launch, but was able to deploy most of the satellites it carried.

“Vigoride-5 remains in good health, and the vehicle’s power and thermal systems continue to be within nominal ranges,” Rood said.

The next major milestone is to test the spacecraft’s propulsion system, which uses microwaves to heat liquid water into stream to generate thrust. Tests of the microwave electrothermal thruster system will begin in the “coming weeks,” he said, but did not give a more specific schedule.

Even as on-orbit tests of Vigoride-5 continue, Momentus completed work on its next tug, Vigoride-6. The company announced March 8 that it shipped the tug to Vandenberg Space Force Base for integration on the SpaceX Transporter-7 dedicated rideshare mission, scheduled for launch in April.

Vigoride-6 will deploy two cubesats for NASA’s Low-Latitude Ionosphere/Thermosphere Enhancements in Density (LLITED) mission to study conditions in the upper atmosphere, as well as payloads for several commercial and academic customers. The tug will also test a new solar array system called Tape Spring Solar Array (TASSA) that Vigoride developed with the goal of reducing costs and production times.

Rood reported production of Vigoride-6 went more smoothly than its predecessors, with 45% fewer non-conformances on the new tug versus Vigoride-5 that took less time to resolve. “All of this gives us increased confidence in the reliability” of Vigoride, he said. “We expect to see continued productivity gains during the production of our next vehicle, Vigoride-7.”

Vigoride-7 is scheduled to launch in October on the Transporter-9 mission. In addition to customer payloads, Momentus plans to test rendezvous and proximity operations technology on that mission, which the company says will support the ability of future vehicles to refuel and be reused.

The company is hoping that the success of those Vigoride tugs will drum up more business. “As we generate more flight heritage and as we get further into our development cycle, we’re seeing growing interest from commercial customers as well as government customers,” Rood said. He noted “significant opportunities” from NASA and the Defense Department, including the Space Development Agency and DARPA.

However, the company has yet to secure contracts with them beyond the LLITED cubesats flying on Vigoride-6. “It’s a long-cycle business with the government, so we don’t have any contracts to announce today,” he said. “We’re optimistic about the future.”

The company reported a backlog of $33 million in both firm contracts and options as of the end of 2022, down from $43 million as of the end of October 2022. Dennis Mahoney, interim chief financial officer, said the decrease reflected options for future missions that had expired, but did not disclose how much of the current backlog represented firm contracts versus options.

Momentus reported only $299,000 in revenue in 2022, with a net loss of $91.3 million. The company had $61.1 million of cash on hand as of the end of 2022. Mahoney said the company had “sufficient liquidity” to meet its needs for the next 12 months, noting that the monthly cash burn rate declined over the course of 2022.

Momentus announced Feb. 23 it raised $10 million from an unnamed institutional investor. That money went to make the final payment to its Russian co-founders, Mikhail Kokorich and Lev Khasis, as part of a share divestment agreement announced in 2021 to resolve national security concerns about the company.

The company announced the same day it settled a class-action lawsuit filed regarding the company’s merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that took Momentus public. Momentus will pay $8.5 million to settle the suit, of which at least $4 million will come from insurance. “We’re very pleased to have that behind us,” Rood said of the lawsuit on the earnings call.

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...