SpaceX is set to launch 114 payloads into orbit tomorrow morning on Falcon 9, the sixth mission of its smallsat rideshare program. But while the rocket company is now an old hand at launches — SpaceX just closed a record year with 61 launches in 2022 alone — for a handful of aerospace startups, Transporter-6 marks a milestone.
Those startups include Launcher, conducting its first space tug mission; an inaugural technical demonstration in orbit of magdrive; and Epic space travelwho also launches a space tugboat for the first time.
Launcher CEO Max Haot told businessupdates.org that the company realized there was a big market opportunity to develop a space tug after SpaceX debuted its rideshare program, dramatically cutting launch costs. The launcher’s tug, named Orbiter, will deploy or host payloads for 10 separate customers. The company is also developing a small launcher; Orbiter will be the third stage.
Space tugs fill a market segment for customers who need a specific job but want to pay less than the cost of a dedicated rocket launch, Haot said.
“There’s always a need for a dedicated rocket in the end if you need a specific job for a higher price, and eventually we’ll compete there, but the space tug really helps make these rideshare flights more useful because you get more than just one job can reach.” ,” he said.
Launcher isn’t the only company that has set its sights on the emerging space tug market. Epic Aerospace, which bills itself as a space transportation network company, will also launch a tug on Transporter-6 for the first time. Space companies Momentus, D-Orbit and Exolaunch will also deploy or host satellites for customers during this mission.
It may seem like the space tug market is already packed with players, but Haot said the ultimate winners are far from being decided.
“If you look at the press coverage, it seems that a lot of companies are building space tugs. But if you look at the customers, this is very new and no one has really demonstrated a large transfer capacity that is useful for satellite companies yet,” he said.
Magdrive, a UK-based startup developing a high-thrust spacecraft propulsion engine, is also heading into space for the first time for a technology demonstration in orbit. The prototype’s propulsion system draws power from onboard solar panels, stores it, and discharges it at various power levels.
“The mission is 12 months long, but we aim to try as many charge and discharge options as quickly as possible so that we collect as much data as possible,” Magdrive CEO Mark Stokes told businessupdates.org.
Transporter-6 will depart Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:56 a.m. EST. It will be the fifteenth flight of the Falcon 9 booster called B1060. Transporter-6 will also carry satellites for Planet Labs and Spire Global, as well as other payloads for scientific, research and commercial customers.
The launch will be streamed live on SpaceX’s website.