Momentus Technologies is signing up customers rapidly for its Vigoride transportation service. Vigoride is designed to move Momentus customer satellites to new orbital planes. Credit: Momentus

SAN FRANCISCO – Swarm Technologies is working with in-space transportation startup Momentus to send its constellation of tiny internet-of-things satellites into different orbital planes.

Under an agreement announced April 22, Momentus will arrange rides for 12 Swarm SpaceBee satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission in December 2020 with additional SpaceBee launches scheduled in 2021 and 2022.

To offer global coverage for customers seeking to relay messages through the internet, Swarm satellites must be stationed in different orbital planes and spread out within those orbital planes like a string of pearls, Sara Spangelo, Swarm co-founder and CEO, told SpaceNews.

For the Falcon 9 launch in December, Momentus will not move Swarm SpaceBees to a new orbital plane. In the future, Momentus’ Vigoride in-space shuttle will offer Swarm the option of moving SpaceBees from the rocket’s drop-off point to different locations, Negar Feher, Momentus vice president of product and business development, said by email.

Swarm raised $25 million in a Series A investment round last year for its work building a 150-satellite constellation to offer low-cost communications for customers in remote locations. The Mountain View, California, company has nine satellites in orbit and Federal Communications Commission approval for commercial constellation operations.

Swarm satellites, measuring 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters, have no onboard propulsion. Instead, they move in orbit with the help of aerodynamic drag and onboard magnetorquers, Spangelo said by email.

Momentus raised $25.5 million in a Series A investment round last year for its Vigoride transportation service. In recent weeks, Momentus announced a series of launch service agreements. Swarm is Santa Clara, California-based Momentus’ first constellation customer.

“Swarm has long been on our radar because the Momentus service model is well-matched with Swarm’s need for low cost, dependable access to space with our unique capability to offer delivery into precision orbits,” Momentus CEO Mikhail Kokorich said in a statement. “We look forward to supporting the rollout of their global constellation.”

Many launches to low Earth orbit drop off satellites in sun synchronous orbits where they pass over locations between nine and 10 am local time. Momentus’ Vigoride transportation service offers customers rides to orbits where satellites will pass over locations at local times as much as three hours earlier or later, Feher said. 

To reach the desired orbital location, Vigoride will raise the altitude of the customer’s satellites and remain at a higher altitude until the desired local time is reached. “The final maneuver is to lower the altitude to the desired orbit and deploy the satellites,” Feher said. 

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...