Spaceflight is all about getting to space, in the most cost effective and reliable way. That’s why we’re so excited about our upcoming SEOPS-1 mission. This will be a ground breaker in several ways. We’ll be launching six cubesats for three different customers, using two different launch vehicles, the International Space Station and several intrepid astronauts.
The International Space Station (ISS) uses two vehicles for resupplying the astronauts: Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus, which launches on their Antares launch vehicle, and SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule, which launches using their Falcon 9. Both Cygnus and Dragon berth with the ISS and offload supplies and experiments. After completing its on-station mission, Dragon is deberthed from the ISS, it re-enters and returns back to Earth for reuse. Cygnus is loaded with trash and disposables from the ISS, is deberthed, conducts extended mission operations, and ultimately deorbits and burns up in the atmosphere. For this mission, during the extended mission operations of Cygnus it will serve as a deployment platform for our customers’ cubesats.
Here’s how it will work:
- The Cygnus was launched on April 17, 2019 and is currently berthed with the ISS. In mid-July, the Dragon will launch aboard the Falcon 9 in late July and will also berth with the ISS. They will be berth mates for about a week. Besides the astronaut supplies and experiments, the Dragon will also have our customers’ cubesats and a unique Slingshot Deployment system on board.
- The astronauts will unpack their supplies and pull the cubesats and dispensers from the cargo transfer bags. One of our spacecraft is packaged in a CTB with snacks for the astronauts, so we’re sure it will get careful handling! They will then re-pack the Cygnus with the ISS refuse and some other experiments, and close the hatch. Then they will install the Slingshot dispenser rails and cubesat dispensers on the outside of the Cygnus.
- When installation is complete, the Cygnus will deberth after the dispenser installation and will raise up to a 500km orbit, using its propulsion system. Engineers on the ground will initiate the deployment sequence, and our customers’ cubesats will be deployed.
- After that, the Cygnus will allow its final experiments to run. Once complete, the Cygnus’ mission is done, and it will use its propulsion one last time to push back to the atmosphere where it will burn up.
This innovative mission has several advantages for our customers. First and foremost, it is cost effective as it is using capacity that is already there. Our customers are “hitching a ride” on some of the most reliable launches out there – resupply missions that are already scheduled and will be going regardless of commercial payloads. Also, these launches have a reliable and consistent schedule, allowing our customers to get on orbit faster. We have several more SEOPS launches planned and look forward to taking many more customers to space via the ISS resupply missions.