Sherpa-LTE Propulsion Pics in Space are LIT

We couldn’t be prouder of our Sherpa OTV, which debuted in 2021 and has been a real game changer for our customers. We thought this would be a great time to show off some of the photos from Sherpa in space, including  what we believe is the first-ever image of a thruster firing in space. 

To recap the mission: The SpaceX Transporter 2 mission, which we named SXRS-5, launched in June of 2021. It was our first mission with two Sherpa OTVs aboard, including the Sherpa-FX2 and Sherpa LTE1: Spaceflight’s first OTV featuring electric propulsion. Customers onboard that mission included ​​Hawkeye 360, Astrocast, Aerospacelab, In-Space Missions, Kleos Space, Loft Orbital, Lynk Global, NearSpace Launch, OQ Technology, Orbit Fab, Orbital Sidekick, among others. 

Launch day is always exciting and SXRS-5’s was no different. As we watched the two OTVs successfully deploy from the Falcon 9, the team celebrated a monumental milestone for the Sherpa program. But in the following days, our team was just as thrilled when we began to download images from the two onboard cameras. 

Deployment of customer payloads from Sherpa

Since its launch, Sherpa-LTE1’s cameras have been working overtime. They have provided us with a library of reduced resolution images that we can sift through to decide if there is interest in downlinking any of them in full resolution. One image in particular caught our attention: we believe we’ve captured the first time that an electric propulsion system was fired up in space. 

Here’s a pic of Apollo Fusion’s ACE Thruster in the lab:

And here it is in space! 

This is a great illustration of a “Hall Effect thruster” at work. Hall Effect thrusters are a type of electric propulsion that use an ionized inert gas as the propellant which is accelerated by an electric field to create thrust. For the case of LTE1, the propellant used is Xenon. While the thrust created by a Hall Effect Thruster is much lower than common chemical propulsion systems, the efficiency is much higher, which typically allows this system to operate for much longer. To date, the ACE Thruster on board Sherpa-LTE1 has been operational for upwards of 350 minutes. Using an automated script on board, all this operational time has been used to circularize the Sherpa-LTE1 orbit, as well as lower its altitude. 

We are very pleased with the performance of Sherpa-LTE1. It’s just one of the models in the Sherpa family that is delivering for our customers. We plan to share more images in the coming months, so stay tuned.

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