Vigoride 5 test
Momentus said it did additional testing of its Vigoride 5 vehicle, including this deployment test of its solar arrays, ahead of launch in December. Credit: Momentus

WASHINGTON — Momentus says it has “higher confidence” in its second space tug set to launch in December after fixing problems encountered with its first vehicle launched earlier this year.

In an earnings call after the release of its third quarter financial results Nov. 8, John Rood, chief executive of Momentus, said the company’s Vigoride 5 tug is on track to launch on SpaceX’s Transporter-6 rideshare mission, scheduled to launch in December on a Falcon 9 from Florida. The company completed a flight readiness review for the spacecraft about a week earlier and will ship it to Cape Canaveral “in the coming days.”

Vigoride 5 follows the company’s first tug, Vigoride 3, launched on the Transporter-5 mission in May. That vehicle suffered several problems, including communications issues and a solar array that failed to properly deploy, although the company was eventually able to deploy seven of the nine satellites on board.

“Based on lessons learned from our first mission, enhancements made to our integration and testing processes, and improvements made to the vehicle itself, we have higher confidence going into our second mission than we had ahead of our first mission,” Rood said.

He said the company found fewer issues during the testing of Vigoride 5 than it did with Vigoride 3, and that problems it did encounter were resolved faster. The work on Vigoride 5 included enhanced testing of its deployable solar array to confirm it worked as expected.

“In addition to the solar array issue, we’ve also identified the root causes of the other issues experienced during our inaugural mission and we have made changes to address these issues ahead of our next mission,” he added, without going into details on those other problems.

The Vigoride 5 mission will be launched into a sun-synchronous orbit with an initial altitude of about 500 kilometers. It will deploy a single satellite from a Singapore-based company, Qosmosys. That company has released few details about the satellite, which it calls Zeus-1, other than it will carry an unspecified “scientific payload” as well as “artworks.”

Vigoride will then remain in orbit for several months, operating a hosted payload provided by Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project. The payload features three experiments to test solar cell performance, deployment mechanisms and beam focusing and steering technologies needed for future space-based systems that could convert sunlight into electricity and transmit it to Earth as microwaves.

The vehicle will also maneuver in orbit during that time, testing its microwave electrothermal thruster that uses water as propellant. At the end of the mission, Vigoride 5 will lower its orbit to speed up its reentry. Rood did not disclose the planned length of the mission, although a paper by the Caltech group flying the space solar power payload said the vehicle would spend seven months in orbit, with six months dedicated to the hosted payload mission.

Vigoride 5 represents an upgrade that Rood called “Block 2.2”, versus the Block 2.0 design of Vigoride 3. The improvements, beyond the technical fixes, include a modular payload bay and enhanced payload hosting capabilities. The vehicle also includes a new version of its microwave electrothermal thruster with improved performance.

“The primary objective of this upcoming mission is to test the vehicle, learn from any issues we encounter and address those issues on subsequent Vigoride vehicles as we work towards freezing the design for production,” Rood said.

Momentus has two more Vigoride vehicles in development that it plans to fly on Transporter missions in February and May 2023, although Rood said the schedule was “tight” for the February mission. Those will also use the Block 2.2 design. Momentus has also started procurement of components for three more Vigoride vehicles.

The upcoming missions come as the company seeks to extend its available cash to support operations through the end of 2023. The company reported $129,000 in revenue in the third quarter and adjusted negative earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of $16 million. The company has $82 million in cash and cash equivalents, which executives aid in the call was sufficient runway to get through the end of 2023.

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...