Benchmark Adds Propulsion to Sherpa-LTC

Photo of the Benchmark propulsion unit, Polaris LTC, ready for testing

Benchmark Space Systems is a leader in providing cost-effective propulsion systems for smallsat missions: it was a natural fit when we were looking for the most cutting edge propulsion systems for our Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) program. Besides a natural fit as far as technical experience, there is a shared outlook and culture that brings a unique synergy to the table. 

One thing that Benchmark and Spaceflight share is that we both serve many customers who are not the usual space industry experts. There are so many opportunities in the new space economy, that many companies are looking to capitalize on it. Likewise, customers like universities might be doing critical research that needs to be done in space – and their focus needs to be there. Benchmark CEO Ryan McDevit, agrees. “We can’t just sell our customers a piece of hardware — we need to be partners with them, leveraging our expertise to remove pain points for in-space mobility planning and execution with flexible underlying technologies. And that is how Spaceflight thinks as well, as we plan for last mile delivery to space.”

From a technology point of view, both Benchmark and Spaceflight are always thinking about flexibility. “We think about how our systems can be flexible, how our customers can launch from as many places as possible, on different launch vehicles,” says McDevit. “You want to do business anywhere? We can support that. It’s also a nice fit for Spaceflight’s rideshare model.”

The next big showcase of the Benchmark/Spaceflight partnership will be on the SXRS-6 mission, slated to launch no earlier than January 2022 from Cape Canaveral. Spaceflight will be deploying customer spacecraft to two distinct orbits for the first time using the Benchmark chemical propulsion system on its Sherpa-LTC1 OTV. For Benchmark, this will be the first on-orbit check out of this chemical propulsion system. They will be supporting Spaceflight’s customer missions for deployment, while also getting flight heritage for their system. After separating from the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, and deploying the first round of payloads, the Benchmark propulsion system will fire up and take the OTV to two different orbits, delivering payloads to exact customer specifications. Then the Sherpa-LTC1 will then begin its final mission phase, on-orbit testing, and automated maneuvering, fine tuning the system for future missions. 

In an industry that often sees players making bold claims about capabilities and projected successes, Benchmark and Spaceflight are actually delivering on the promise of cost-effective access to spaces. “We’re building solutions, not science projects,” says McDevit. “Spaceflight is building the hardware that people can actually use to get to space affordably and quickly. And our innovative chemical propulsion system, using safe nontoxic propellants, makes it easier to launch.”

Benchmark, like Spaceflight, works to handle customer payload needs from the smallest cubesat to large OTVs. This flexibility shows the entire industry what is possible. 

Spaceflight and Benchmark are a true partnership, with aligned goals and outlooks.  Both teams are pushing the boundaries of what is possible as far as schedule, performance, and cost. 

“To accomplish what we are trying to do, you must have a close relationship, and every step of the way we’ve had a support structure from Spaceflight. We just don’t get this from others,” says McDevit. The Spaceflight team likewise is excited to be partnering with Benchmark, and we look forward to the launch of SXRS-6 and beyond to many future missions!

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