TAMPA, Fla. — Launch services provider Spaceflight announced plans Nov. 9 to deliver 13 customer payloads across two distinct orbits for the first time next year with its new space tug.

Sherpa-LTC1, the first in Spaceflight’s line of orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) with chemical propulsion, aims to make its debut as part of the SpaceX Transporter-3 mission slated to launch no earlier than January 2022 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In a mission Spaceflight dubs SXRS-6, the OTV will first place four microsatellites and five cubesats in Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) at 525 kilometers altitude, after being deployed from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

About a month later, following various commissioning and system tests, Sherpa-LTC1 will use its bipropellant, green propulsion subsystem from Benchmark Space Systems to maneuver to 500 kilometers, where it will deploy its remaining four cubesats.

Two 1.5U cubesats for NASA, a satellite for Oregon’s Portland State University (PSU) and one other customer are using the OTV to get to a lower orbit, SXRS-6 mission director Ryan Olcott told SpaceNews.

The NASA satellites are for the space agency’s Low-Latitude Ionosphere/Thermosphere Enhancements in Density (LLITED) mission, which will study factors behind atmospheric drag. 

PSU’s OreSat0 will help test an open-source platform being developed by its Portland State Aerospace Society, and is the first in a planned series of three satellites.

A total eight organizations are hitching a ride on Sherpa-LTC1, including return customers Capella Space, Umbra Space, Lynk Global and Kleos Space. 

The Czech Aerospace Research Centre, in partnership with smallsat mission integrator Spacemanic, and Space Products and Innovation (SPiN) are among new customers for Spaceflight on the mission.

SXRS-6 is Spaceflight’s first multi-destination mission, taking customer payloads to different orbits. Credit: Spaceflight Inc.
SXRS-6 is Spaceflight’s first multi-destination mission, taking customer payloads to different orbits. Credit: Spaceflight Inc.

SXRS-6 is set to mark the third time Spaceflight has debuted a new class of Sherpa vehicle within 12 months.

Spaceflight launched its first Sherpa-NG (next-generation) vehicle in January, the Sherpa-FX1 with no propulsion, as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-1’s ride-share mission.

In June it debuted Sherpa-LTE1, its first OTV with electric propulsion, aboard the SpaceX Transporter-2 mission.

The ability to provide “last-kilometer delivery” with propulsive space tugs opens up new market opportunities for the expanding small satellite industry, according to Olcott.

“Each of our Sherpa launches this year has incrementally brought vital learnings that have prepared us to launch Sherpa-LTC1 to execute our first in-space multi-destination mission,” he added in a statement.

“This milestone mission validates our ability to provide customers with more customized launch options to achieve their mission objectives and get them to their final destination, even when there are no launches that initially meet their specific mission needs.”

Spaceflight recently unveiled a fourth Sherpa-NG iteration called Sherpa-ES, designed to swing around the moon to deliver payloads in geostationary orbit (GEO).

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...