Momentus test orbital tug successfully raises orbit using water-ionized thrusters

Momentus’s Vigoride test orbital tug has successfully raised its orbit using a ion thrusters that use water as their fuel, proving that the tug can be used to bring smallsats launched as secondary payloads to their preferred orbits.

According to tracking data, Vigoride-5 is in an orbit at an average altitude of 524.3 kilometers as of late May 7, about two kilometers higher than it was in early April, when the maneuvers started. The vehicle’s orbit had been gradually decaying since its launch in early January on the SpaceX Transporter-6 smallsat rideshare mission, descending about five kilometers before the maneuvers started.

The test of the MET is a major milestone for Momentus, which is relying on the technology to propel its tugs that will deliver satellites to their desired orbits. Technical problems with its first tug, Vigoride-3, launched nearly a year ago, kept the company from testing the MET on that vehicle.

Vigoride-5 is carrying a single smallsat, for Singapore-based Qosmosys, that it will release, although the companies have not disclosed the planned orbit for that spacecraft. The tug will also operate a hosted payload from Caltech to demonstrate space-based solar power technologies for several months.

The company already has another Vigoride in orbit that launched in April, carrying its own set of payloads for orbital transport.

Momentus has now deployed seven of ten customer payloads from its Vigoride tug

Capitalism in space: Despite technical communications issues after deployment of the first test flight of its Vigoride orbital tug, Momentus yesterday announced that has now deployed seven of ten customer payloads.

This announcement is somewhat of a surprise, as in June the company had said it would not be able to deploy anymore payloads due to the communications and solar panel problems Vigoride was experiencing.

The update also noted that the company is incorporating changes in its next Vigoride tug, scheduled to launch in November.

Kepler signs up D-Orbit’s orbital tug for its next two satellites

Capitalism in space: The Canadian company Kepler — which already has nineteen satellites in orbit providing data communications — will use the orbital tug developed by the start-up D-Orbit and dubbed ION on its next two satellites.

After separating from the launch vehicle, D-Orbit intends to use ION to drop Kepler’s satellites off at a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) between 500 and 600 kilometers. Each satellite is the size of six cubesats, a standard smallsat form factor measuring 10 centimeters on each side.

Kepler previously had a deal to use Momentus’s Vigoride tug, but delays and further in-orbit technical problems with that tug has apparently forced it to switch to D-Orbit.

Momentus concedes its Vigoride tug will probably not be able to deploy more satellites

Capitalism in space: Momentus yesterday conceded that because of the problems that have dogged the first flight of its Vigoride tug, it will probably not be able to deploy the remaining smallsats on board.

Previously the company had said that communications issues were interfering with deployment. This update revealed that the tug’s solar arrays had also not opened as intended.

After initially experiencing these anomalies, we were able to deploy two customer satellites from Vigoride on May 28. Since that time, we have continued efforts to deploy other customer satellites, but have not confirmed any subsequent deployments. While we previously established two-way communications with the Vigoride vehicle, we have not been able to continue such two-way communication, which we believe is due to the low power situation on the vehicle due to the deployable solar arrays not operating as intended.

Though this update is very unclear on this point, it appears that Vigoride was able to deploy three objects in total, or a total of six smallsats. How many additional smallsats failed to deploy is not clear.

The company plans its next launch in November, with additional launches next year.

Momentus’s space tug successfully deploys two smallsats, despite communications issue

Capitalism in space: In a brief update released on May 31st, Momentus announced that despite the communications issues engineers are having with the communications system on its Vigoride space tug, it was still able to successfully deploy two smallsats several days earlier.

The update also says that the company plans “… to continue work to address the anomalies on the Vigoride spacecraft announced on May 27 and deploy additional customer satellites.”

Based on these updates, as well as the company’s description of this mission, it is not clear how many other smallsats still need to be deployed.

First test flight of Momentus’s orbital tug has issues

Capitalism in space: According to a short press release from the company, tirst test flight of Momentus’s orbital tug — launched on a Falcon 9 on May 25th, has communications issues.

We have established two-way contact with the Vigoride Orbital Transfer Vehicle, and as is often the case with a new spacecraft, have had some initial anomalies. We are using an unplanned frequency as we work through this and are applying for a Special Temporary Authority (STA) with the FCC to address that in order to help command the vehicle back to nominal configuration. Our engineering and operations team is working to address the anomalies.

No further details have so far been released.

Momentus gets final launch permits for its space tug

Capitalism in space: After a year delay due to government security concerns, Momentus has finally gotten all the launch permits required for a launch later this month on a Falcon 9 of its space tug, Vigoride, on its first orbital test flight.

In late April Momentus had gotten FCC approval. Now it has gotten clearance from the FAA. The FAA had blocked last year’s launch because of security concerns related to the foreign connections of several of the company’s founders/investors. Those individuals have now left the company, clearing the way for license approval.

The delay however caused Momentus to lose several customers while allowing another space tug competitor, Launcher, to catch up.

Momentus losing contracts due to security concerns

Capitalism in space: The orbit tug company Momentus appears to be losing some of its contracts because of security concerns that have delayed FAA approvals of its launch licenses and forced the cancellation of flights.

The company delayed the launch of its first Vigoride vehicle, which was to fly on a SpaceX rideshare mission in January, because it could not complete a payload review by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in time. Momentus said that the FAA could not approve the payload “due to national security and foreign ownership concerns regarding Momentus raised by the DoD during an interagency review.”

Momentus now hopes to launch that first Vigoride mission on another Falcon 9 rideshare mission in June. The company said the FAA is still working on that interagency review that is being held open by the Defense Department. The review needs to be completed by the end of May for the company to keep its slot on that June launch.

The company has also lost a contract with Lockheed Martin, which though the reasons have not been stated probably relates to the same issue.

That issue apparently is the company’s former chief executive Mikhail Kokorich and its co-founder Lev Khasis and his wife. To address these concerns, Kokorich has stepped down, and the Khasis have put their shares in the company in a voting trust and will divest them within three years.

All does not appear lost however. Momentus Vigoride tug is presently the only option available for cubesats that need an upper stage to move them to different orbits, and it appears that neither Lockheed Martin nor its other customers are entirely abandoning it. They are simply playing safe, standing back, and waiting until the security issues are resolved and the FAA gives its approval.

Swarm and Momentus team up to launch and position satellites

Capitalism in space: Swarm, builder of the tiny cubesats dubbed SpaceBees, has teamed up with Momentus to use that company’s Vigoride cubesat upper stage to position its satellites in different orbits after launch.

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.

Both companies have raised significant investment capital.

Momentus wins contract with Taiwan university

Capitalism in space: Momentus, a company that sells a small upper stage designed to provide orbital transportation for cubesats, has won a new contract with Taiwan university.

Under the agreement, Momentus will provide in-space transportation for a satellite mission called Intelligent Remote-Sensing and Internet Satellite (IRIS)-A. Odysseus is providing pre-launch testing and arranging launch services for the IRIS-A mission developed by Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. IRIS-A is designed to test technology to improve the quality of downlink signals.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Momentus executives say they are continuing to sign up customers interested in traveling on Vigoride, a vehicle to move small satellites from their drop-off point in orbit to their final destination.

The article does not say what rocket will launch the cubesat plus Vigoride, but Momentus has a contract with SpaceX to launch five cubesats as secondary payloads, so this is probably how the payload will reach orbit.

Normally cubesats launched as secondary payloads on big rockets like the Falcon 9 have very limited options on the orbits they can reach. The primary payload’s requirements are what rules. The idea here is Vigoride takes over once deployed and moves the satellite to the exact orbit needed. If Momentus is successful in doing this it will give cubesat makers many more launch options. It will also put more competitive pressure on the smallsat rockets like Rocket Lab’s Electron, since its main selling point is how it can put cubesats where they want to go, something that bigger rockets have not been able to do, up until now.

Momentus announces new customer for its cubesat upper stage services

Capitalism in space: Momentus, an company that is offering an upper stage to move tiny cubesats into higher orbits after launch, has announced that the United Kingdom cubesat company SteamJet has purchased that upper stage for use when its next satellite is launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket later this year.

Momentus’s approach signals a fundamental change that commercial space is now undergoing. Traditionally the launch company would provide this kind of service, but for cubesats flying as secondary payloads that isn’t possible. Momentus is thus taking it on as an independent secondary launch service for cubesats alone. With this announcement the company already has five customers, with launches scheduled for the next two years.

SteamJet also is most intriguing along these same lines.

Once in orbit, SteamJet intends to demonstrate a propulsion system that uses water or another low pressure, non-toxic, non-corrosive fluid propellant to create thrust. SteamJet houses its propulsion system in a module shaped like a tuna can that attaches to the exterior of a cubesat.

A lot of exciting things are going to be happening in space in this coming decade, and almost all will be because of private enterprise, freedom, and competition, fueled by profit.