When the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sends the robotic lander to the south pole of the moon, possibly as early as next year, Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. plans to use its own spacecraft for some additional deliveries.
This mission, called GEO Pathfinder, will represent the first space excursion of a new orbital transfer vehicle called Sherpa Escape or Sherpa-ES.
The term “orbit” may not be entirely correct, because the vehicle is designed to go far beyond low-Earth orbit to fly around the moon and return, and may deploy payloads at every step along the way.
Grant Bonin, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Spaceflight, said at today’s press conference: “This mission will showcase our complete mission toolbox, as well as executing complex, groundbreaking and exciting tasks outside of LEO. Task capacity.”
GEO Pathfinder’s Sherpa-ES will serve as an auxiliary payload for the Falcon 9 mission, which will send Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander to the south pole of the moon no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022.
Small payloads can be connected to multiple ports of the Sherpa to be deployed in half-moon or low-moon orbits. It is even possible to place satellites in a geosynchronous equatorial orbit or GEO around the earth through a circuitous route.
“Spaceflight will use creative trajectory launches and our state-of-the-art propulsion system to slingshot around the moon, allowing us to deliver payloads to GEO in an environmentally safe manner,” Bonin explained.
GEO satellites usually have to be sent to their designated locations through a multi-step orbit elevation process, which requires a large amount of airborne propellant. Entering the geosynchronous orbit from above, using the power provided during the circumlunar travel, will reduce the need for additional fuel.
For the GEO Pathfinder mission, one of Spaceflight’s customers is Geographic jump, A new company dedicated to providing GEO carpooling opportunities for small satellites. One of the payloads on Sherpa-ES will be Orbit Fab’s space refueling systemIn order for the Orbit Fab payload to reach its destination, Sherpa-ES will perform a lunar flyover and then return to Earth to enter a geosynchronous orbit.
“Providing carpooling tasks to GEO is a real game changer in the small satellite industry,” said Meagan Crawford, co-founder and managing partner. Space Fund, And its portfolio includes GeoJump and Orbit Fab. “When we first proposed to our portfolio companies the idea of accessing GEO through shared travel with Spaceflight in 2022, the response was very enthusiastic. What was once part of the long-term strategy of many of these companies has now become a short-term reality.”
Spaceflight stated that Sherpa-ES can also be used for deep space deployments.
Sherpa-ES is the latest model in the new generation of Sherpa orbital tugs. The tug also includes the free-flying Sherpa-FX; Sherpa-LTE, which uses a xenon-based electric propulsion system; and Sherpa-LTC, which uses a “green” dual Component propulsion system. Spaceflight Inc. optimized the Sherpa-ES two-component propulsion system to generate higher energy for orbital elevation and tilt angle changes.
Sherpa-FX made its debut as a secondary Falcon 9 payload in January. In June, SpaceX’s other satellite carpool mission featured Sherpa-LTE and Sherpa-FX. Sherpa-LTC will make its debut later this year.