Beyond LEO: Where We Are Headed

The launch of Spaceflight’s GTO mission in 2019. Photo credit: SpaceX

By Grant Bonin

At Spaceflight, our ambitions aren’t limited to LEO. As some customers begin to think of launch to LEO as a commodity, we are confident that we will always be the best “full package” option of price, service and experience. But launch is just the beginning: we are committed to the overall development of space, which goes beyond just launch. We want to be the first stop for companies looking to execute missions and build infrastructure anywhere in cis-Lunar space… and beyond.

Our Sherpa-NextGen program is a building block towards our vision. With our full range of launch vehicle options plus Sherpa, we can get customers to the exact orbit they want, exactly when they want, with maximum efficiency or maximum speed. For years we’ve seen the customer pain of accepting non-ideal orbits just because a primary payload was headed there; so with Sherpa, we’ve fixed that. But ferrying customers from where they’re dropped off by the launch vehicle to an operational low-Earth orbit is only the beginning.

So what is infrastructure in a space economy? Think logistics. Everyone is familiar with transportation and logistics companies on Earth. Now, more and more people are thinking about what this looks like in space–and we have been building our vision of this for quite some time. 

We see more and more demand every year from customers interested in launching space to cislunar destinations. The moon is certainly a next step, and we are one of the few companies that has already taken customers there. In 2019, Spaceflight took both the first privately funded lunar lander – Beresheet – to their desired orbit, but also U.S. Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) experimental small satellite, S5. We’re not starting at the drawing board to put together missions beyond LEO (whether it’s GTO, MEO, GEO, or Lunar): we’ve done this before.

Looking forward, the opportunities for space development are endless, and more and more concrete plans are cropping up every day. For example, take surface exploration on the moon; modern-day GPS is essential for terrestrial navigation, but there isn’t a GPS constellation for the moon–yet. The need for great navigation in support of surface exploration and applications is increasingly evident. And for everyone already working on this problem: we can be the ride. We’ve been thinking about it for a while. 

Great communications in cis-Lunar space is tied to navigation, and remains a pressing need: we can’t live without our cell towers here on Earth to communicate, but who will build the cell towers in space? We see the need, and we’re here to help deliver the solution. 

Human exploration and development beyond low-Earth orbit? These activities will need “forward deployment” of resources and infrastructure. Fueling? Gas stations in space? We’re already making this happen with our customer Orbit Fab in a handful of weeks as of this writing. Beyond-LEO Space Domain Awareness is increasingly important for the United States and its allies; and with our wide range of launch options plus Sherpa, we can provide access to the ultimate high ground. We’ve been laying the groundwork for a while.

We are excited to support customers who think big. And we can serve all of them, with our “building block” approach to space development. We’ve helped customers solve launch with maximum flexibility; we are beginning to operate the “Uber” or “Lyft” of Cis-Lunar space; and we will continue to “lay roads” to enable high-value missions beyond LEO. If we’ve helped pave the road for customers beyond Earth, we’ve done our job. 

A decade ago, most engineers might be lucky to work on one or two missions in their entire career. Today, Spaceflight’s engineers are working on many missions a year, on almost every existing and emerging launch vehicle available. The pace of innovation is only increasing, but our pace exceeds anyone’s in the industry. Robert Heinlein once said, “Once you get to Earth orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system.” Spaceflight has embraced this: and now we’re starting to focus on the other half. Because cliche as it might be, we don’t see the sky as the limit… the sky is home.

Grant Bonin is the SVP of Business Development at Spaceflight.

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