Hosted Payloads Hitchhike to Space with Spaceflight’s Sherpa OTVs

Smallsats have been a primary focus within the industry for the last decade, offering an affordable and efficient approach for satellite development. In addition to smallsats, hosted payloads are another reliable and resourceful way to get to space that requires even less capital and resources. 

Hosted payloads, which could be sensors, instruments or other objects, utilize existing capacity on commercial satellites and spacecraft/vehicles to provide a platform for the payload. The hosted payload may operate independently of the main spacecraft, or it may borrow some of the systems of the host spacecraft, such as power, attitude control, propulsion, and communication systems. This is ideal for payload developers looking for a subsidized ride to space that reduces costs and avoids the expense of a fully capable spacecraft bus.

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-FX OTV is carrying 14 spacecraft, including 2 hosted payloads, aboard a Falcon 9 early next year.

Top Benefits: Ease, Low Cost 

At Spaceflight, we’ve consciously kept the benefits of hosted payload capacity at the forefront and included this capability in our recently launched orbital transfer vehicles (OTV) within the Sherpa-NG program. Among the many benefits of these OTVs, customers can take advantage of additional capacity we’ve purposely built into our Sherpa vehicles to support hosted payloads. We recognize that this is often a great approach to launching payloads without the requirement of creating an expensive spacecraft bus to house it. When we developed Sherpa, it was critical that we provided customers pursuing this approach with viable launch options and a way to experience the unmatched flexibility we deliver through our services.

By piggybacking and sharing the preexisting operations of the Sherpa vehicle, payload developers don’t have to create additional systems to support their payload. This reduces the amount of time needed to create a satellite and removes the need to build, launch and operate a full satellite system. In turn, payload developers can concentrate on their technology and mission. Further, because of the standardization we’ve built into the Sherpa vehicles, payloads can quickly move between missions and remanifest, diminishing the impacts of inevitable delays.

In addition to making the process easier, launching a hosted payload can reduce the overall cost. The construction of a small spacecraft bus costs millions. Rather than constructing an individual bus, hosted payloads can utilize our Sherpa vehicles’ main structure and systems. For companies looking to test a new technology, this is an appealing option for a “test flight” that is less complicated and won’t break the bank.

Lastly, the OTVs in the Sherpa-NG program enable flexibility for hosted payloads every step of the way. All three of the vehicles within the program include hosted payload capacity, among various other in-space transportation services, to offer our customers the most customizable experience. Two of the models have different types of propulsion systems to ensure that our customers can get where they want to go, when they want to be there. Each OTV serves a different purpose and provides a diverse range of services to meet our clients’ varying needs.

Now Boarding: Hosted Payloads 

Celestis, a space burial service provider, will be launching as a hosted payload on our debut OTV, the Sherpa-FX vehicle, no earlier than January 2021 on SXRS-3, a SpaceX rideshare mission. NearSpace Launch will also be flying a hosted payload called TagSat-1 on this mission which will demonstrate satellite identification and tracking technologies. NearSpace Launch selected Spaceflight’s Sherpa-FX for its hosted payload because it offered an inexpensive way to quickly increase the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of new systems before offering it to their customers.  

TagSat-1 is similar to this photo

Stay tuned for the launch of these hosted payloads aboard Sherpa-FX early next year, and even more on Sherpa OTVs missions later in 2021. If you’d like more information about arranging a launch for your hosted payload, contact us today at

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