Schedule tight for June launch of first Momentus tug

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WASHINGTON — In-space transportation company Momentus says it is making good progress toward the first launch of its Vigoride space tug, but that the schedule is “tight” for a launch in June.

In an earnings call March 8 after the release of its fourth quarter and full year 2021 financial results, company executives said its Vigoride 3 tug recently completed system-level thermal vacuum testing, and engineers are currently working on unspecified issues with the spacecraft found during those tests.

“We continue to believe that our Vigoride 3 is on a path to complete ground tests in time for our inaugural launch, planned for June, although the schedule is tight,” said John Rood, chief executive of Momentus.

The company faces both technical and regulatory obstacles to getting the tug launched in June. In addition to the engineering work on the spacecraft, the company also has to secure a Federal Communications Commission license, a Federal Aviation Administration payload review and what Rood called a “slight modification” to its existing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration imaging license.

“We currently plan our inaugural mission with Vigoride in June of 2022, subject to the receipt of those licenses and government approvals, and completion of the work to get the system ready,” he said. Momentus has filed a license application with the FCC and started discussions with the FAA.

Licensing proved to be a challenge for Momentus in 2021, when it was forced to postpone launches of an earlier version of its Vigoride tug on two SpaceX rideshare missions in January and June when it was unable to get an FAA payload review. Government agencies raised concerns about the company’s Russian co-founders, which led to the company buying them out and implementing a national security agreement with the Defense and Treasury Departments.

Rood said the company was making “significant progress” implementing that agreement, with a focus on modernizing its information technology systems. “The IT modernization plan was a heavy lift for the company, but we’ve implemented the bulk of this modernization plan now.”

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission March 9, the company noted that it made two voluntary notifications to the Commerce Department last year of inadvertent transfers of information and hardware that are controlled under the Export Administration Regulations to entities in Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland and Singapore. The company said it is awaiting a ruling from the department on any potential penalties from those transfers.

He emphasized that Vigoride 3, when it does launch, will primarily be a technology demonstration mission of the vehicle, which is designed to deploy satellites into different orbits as well as accommodate hosted payloads. “We also plan to take some customer payloads to orbit and generate a small amount of revenue from this mission,” he said. “However, the primary goals of the mission are to test Vigoride on orbit, learn from any issues that we encounter and take important steps toward establishing the viability of our initial market offering.”

Vigoride 3 is currently scheduled to fly on SpaceX’s Transporter-5 dedicated rideshare mission in June. Momentus said it has signed an agreement with SpaceX for a second port on that launch, as well as space on the next four Transporter rideshare missions, scheduled for launch from October 2022 and October 2023. Those additional launches serve as both backups if Vigoride 3 is delayed as well as for future missions.

The second port on Transporter-5 will be used for customers that don’t need the in-space transportation services that Vigoride provides, and at a lower price. Rood said Momentus will acquire a deployer from a “trusted partner” he did not identify for that second port. “While this system cannot provide the last-mile transportation service that Vigoride can, it is less expensive and the meets the needs of some of the customers in our backlog.”

“We’re not certain whether this approach will be part of our long-term plans, and what we’re doing doesn’t require any upfront investment to develop the hardware or introduce the service,” he said. “As we go forward, we’ll determine whether this part of the market provides sufficient growth and profitability opportunities for us to include it on a more permanent basis.”

Momentus reported no revenue in the fourth quarter of 2021 and just $330,000 for the full year. It reported an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) loss of $59.4 million for 2021. Jikun Kim, chief financial officer of the company, said the company had enough cash to go to the “earlier part” of 2023.