New Propulsive Sherpa OTVs Coming in 2021

Spaceflight has always been the industry leader in rideshare launch, and we continue this trend by constantly innovating and offering what customers need in a rapidly evolving environment. Our newest orbital transfer vehicles (OTV), the latest in the Sherpa-NG (NextGen) series, give customers even more ways to get their satellites where they need to be, quickly and cost-efficiently. 

Spaceflight’s VP of Engineering, Phil Bracken, breaks down what these new in-space transportation vehicles mean for the industry. “The Sherpa program delivers flexibility by combining carefully-designed reconfigurable base structures and flight controls with modular propulsion systems, specifically designed to integrate quickly and seamlessly. This modular design is a first for in-space transportation, drawing on Spaceflight’s years of experience in small satellite launches across the globe.” (Remember SSO-A which flew our first Sherpa free flyers, deploying 64 unique spacecraft in 6 hours? Refresher here.)

Our goal is to get our customers’ spacecraft delivered to orbit exactly when and where they want it, all the way to their final destination — the last leg of the journey. When there are no launches available that meet their exact needs, the Sherpa vehicles come into play. They are the perfect “regional jet” complement to rideshare services. They support multiple “sub-port” spacecraft integration and are launch vehicle-agnostic. Because of this, if your launch is delayed, Sherpa standardization makes moving your spacecraft between missions easy — and fast.

The launch of SXRS-3 will debut the new Sherpa-FX, which will carry 14 spacecraft, including hosted payloads, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 no earlier than December 2020.

But we’re not stopping there. Next year will bring in two more Sherpa models tailored to our customer needs. 

Want to go fast? Meet Sherpa-LTC

Sherpa-LTC’s high thrust, bi-propellant, green propulsion subsystem is integrated seamlessly within the available space of the original free flyer. By including this new propulsion technology from Benchmark Space Systems, Sherpa-LTC provides a low cost, rapid orbital transfer for many sizes of small spacecraft. 

Ryan McDevitt, Benchmark Space Systems CEO comments, “Powering a rapid delivery vehicle like the Sherpa-LTC has always been on the Benchmark Space roadmap. We couldn’t have asked for better alignment in 2020 with our team partnering with Spaceflight to finalize designs and supplier base for their Sherpa-NG program.”

Want to go far? Meet Sherpa-LTE

This model of Sherpa is for customers looking for GEO, Cislunar, or Earth-escape orbits. It has high specific impulse (Isp), Xenon propellant, electric propulsion. It builds on the Sherpa program by incorporating ACE (Apollo Constellation Engine), a low thrust, high efficiency, radiation hardened Hall thruster propulsion system developed by Apollo Fusion, Inc. As ACE systems are able to generate over 6 km/s of delta-V, Sherpa-LTE now has the capability to deliver customers to GEO, Cislunar, or Earth-escape orbits. The Sherpa-LTE provides a low-cost alternative to purchasing full direct-inject launch vehicles and will extend the ability of small launch vehicles that are currently under development to reach beyond low Earth orbit. 

Apollo Fusion CEO Mike Cassidy adds, “We’re thrilled to partner with Spaceflight to provide the significant delta-V required for Sherpa-LTE to deliver Spaceflight customers to their final orbits in LEO, GEO, and beyond.”

Bracken explains how these offerings continue Spaceflight’s mission of flexibility for smallsat customers. “Spaceflight’s Sherpa-LTC and -LTE orbital transfer vehicle variants incorporate proven technology and highly efficient propulsion systems to provide the greatest flexibility possible to small satellites.” 

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