Launcher fills customer list for first flight of its space tug

Capitalism in space: The startup space tug company Launcher announced yesterday that it has signed deals with ten customers, filling its manifest, for the first test flight of its Orbiter tug.

The tug and its payloads will be launched in October on a Falcon 9. Six of those customers, all cubesats, will be deployed into their preferred orbit by the tug, while four others are payloads that will simply ride on the tug.

The company is now selling planned future missions scheduled in ’23 on other Falcon 9 launches. It is also developing its own smallsat rocket, Launcher Light, with a planned first launch in ’24.

Space spat between Biden and Rogozin over Russian invasion of Ukraine

Yesterday saw harsh words expressed by both President Biden and the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, concerning the partnership of the two countries at ISS, with Biden imposing sanctions and noting these will specifically harm Russia’s space industry, and Rogozin responding by threatening to dump ISS on either a U.S. or European city.

In Biden’s statement, he said, “We estimate that we will cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports, and it will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It will degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program,”

Rogozin’s response came in a series of tweets on Twitter, with his most bellicose statements as follows:

Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS?

This is how you already do it by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centers. Or do you want to manage the ISS yourself? Maybe President Biden is off topic, so explain to him that the correction of the station’s orbit, its avoidance of dangerous rendezvous with space garbage, with which your talented businessmen have polluted the near-Earth orbit, is produced exclusively by the engines of the Russian Progress MS cargo ships. If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe? There is also the option of dropping a 500-ton structure to India and China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?

Meanwhile, it isn’t Russia’s space industry that will suffer the most from this invasion, but Ukraine’s. For example, the American company Launcher, which has had a software team in the Ukraine, has moved most of that team to Bulgaria for their safety.

As a precaution given the escalating political situation, during the last few weeks, we successfully relocated our Ukraine staff to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we opened a new Launcher Europe office. We also invited their immediate family to join them in this move and funded their relocation expenses. We continue to encourage and support five of the support staff and one engineer who decided to remain in Ukraine.

The company’s press release makes it clear that it is no longer dependent in any way with facilities in the Ukraine.

Launcher’s actions will not be the last. Expect all Western commercial efforts linked to the Ukraine to break off ties in order to protect their investments. Moreover, if Russia should recapture the Ukraine entirely, it will likely not give much support to its space industry, as Roscosmos has developed its own Russian resources in the past two decades and will likely want to support those instead.

Thus, the expected destruction of that country’s aerospace industry by Russia’s invasion proceeds.

Space tug company picks Falcon 9 for test flights

Capitalism in space: Launcher, one of several space tug startups, has awarded SpaceX the contract to launch its first four test flights of its Orbiter tug.

Launcher announced Feb. 7 it signed a multi-launch contract with SpaceX for three additional missions of its Orbiter tug. Those tugs will fly on Falcon 9 rideshare missions in January, April and October of 2023.

Launcher’s first Orbiter tug will launch on SpaceX’s Transporter-6 rideshare mission in October 2022 under a contract announced last June when the company revealed its plans to develop Orbiter. The vehicle is designed to deploy cubesats and other smallsats in their desired orbits as well as host payloads for missions lasting up to two years.

Launcher — along with Momentus, Spaceflight, Astroscale, and several others — are all rushing to build and launch the first tugs for transporting satellites from orbit to orbit, or to remove space junk. Launcher’s deal with SpaceX suggests it is tailoring its system for satellites launched from the Falcon 9.

Another smallsat startup announces plans to build its own orbital space tug

Capitalism in space: The smallsat launch startup Launcher announced yesterday that it in addition to developing its own rocket, it plans to build an orbital space tug that can be used both by it and on other smallsat satellites.

Launcher, which announced a $11.7 million funding round June 2, said its Orbiter tug will be able to carry up to 150 kilograms of payload, either in the form of 90 units worth of cubesat deployers or larger satellites using standard smallsat separation systems. Orbiter can also accommodate hosted payloads with power, communications, and other capabilities. Orbiter is equipped with a chemical propulsion system using ethylene and nitrous oxide propellants. The vehicle will initially provide 500 meters per second of delta-v, or change in velocity, but that can be increased by adding more propellant tanks.

Orbiter is intended for use on Launcher Light, the small launch vehicle the company is developing, with a first launch projected in 2024. However, Orbiter is also capable of flying on other launch vehicles using an ESPA Grande adapter ring. Orbiter’s first mission is scheduled for October 2022, when it will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission.

That makes about four companies, Launcher, Momentus, Spaceflight, and D-Orbit, building space tugs for use on smallsats. Some will be on board a Falcon 9 launch set for later this month.