Headed to GTO!

In the beginning, Google and the X Prize Foundation established the Google Lunar X Prize.  Like the Ansari X Prize before it, it was a success (yeah, I know it ended uncompleted) here’s why:  It gave cover to the ambitious who would dare to act on their dreams of reaching the Moon, and teams sprung up around the world to accept the challenge.  Each new competitor provided moral and market reinforcement for the others.

One team in particular gathered an exceptional amount of momentum, and only months after I joined Spaceflight I got to experience the drama of our company securing the first private launch contract for a mission to the Moon.  I was nerding out!  

You see, when I was 17 and feeling pensive, on one of those rare, clear, full-Moon winter nights in Washington, I made an oath to myself that I would get to the Moon if it killed me. [Please forgive my prior fatalism, I was a child of the shuttle rather than Apollo (my first space themed memory was Challenger), I grew up on the persistently cloudy side of Washington, and I listened to Nirvana at 17.]  In my early 20s that  moderated with the slightly less narcissistic realization that Life needed to find a way to spread off Earth and flourish to persist indefinitely, so I’d better get to work if I was to help see it off.  By my late 20s I’d learned that “Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action”1, and that entities that rely on say… involuntary contributions for their existence… are not self-sustaining and aren’t going to do the trick.  To build a life in space we are going to need to generate wealth in space, and that means profits and private enterprises.  Joining Spaceflight and the first private venture to the Moon was in perfect alignment with that, 2015 was awesome!

If you had been keeping tabs on Spaceflight at the time, you may have noticed we had yet to launch our first customer microsat.  The potential in Spaceflight’s rideshare service, specifically our ability to fractionalize the costs and capacity of launch, was compelling enough to attract the boldest, before we had proved the model for any spacecraft larger than a cubesat.  Our distinct advantage in rideshare enables innovators to purposefully and efficiently design and build their spacecraft irrespective of the discrete capacity and interfaces of the launchers on the market.  There is no need to shop for (or build) a Goldilocks launch vehicle, Spaceflight can make the right fit.

Speaking of the right fit… that article I linked above from 2015 describes a mission that may sound familiar. We had originally designed our prior mission, SSO-A, to carry SpaceIL.  As projects mature, requirements often do as well; SSO-A ultimately was not going to be the best fit for SpaceIL.  Seventeen months ago, we signed up with a new ride. SSL (a Maxar Technologies company) had space available and Spaceflight designed a very different ride for SpaceIL to use it, starting almost from scratch.  This time, SpaceIL is riding on top, on a structure we designed to hold another passenger who will ride along until separating a little higher than GEO, all on top of the host spacecraft.  Our GTO-1 mission is an example of how Spaceflight is demonstrating an unprecedented flexibility that launch customers cannot access with launcher direct launch services.

I should note the other payload on this launch is the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 experimental small spacecraft, developed and integrated by Blue Canyon Technologies, will deploy near GEO and then carry out a one year mission. The S5 mission leverages commercial advances and services in a rapid demonstration of small satellite capabilities.

Flexibility like this isn’t easy, but it’s the beauty of our rideshare model.  The past 17 months have been the most challenging, meaningful, and gratifying investment of my life, but it takes a lot of grit (and a stellar team) to get through the many tough spots.  I have never worked harder, longer, or with as much joy.  I have had the great pleasure to work with customers and colleagues I cannot help but admire.  The coming years promise to be even more thrilling – with GTO-1 we’ve developed Spaceflight’s capability to send customers to GEO and beyond, enabling efficient launch for any form-factor spacecraft. Stay tuned in to SpaceIL, because in a couple months I think you’ll see that now even the Moon is in reach!  I hope this mission encourages more people to invest their life in what they want to see grow of it.  I am eager to see what our customers choose to do next.  


Ryan Olcott

GTO-1 Mission Director

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