Sherpa Program: New Orbital Transfer Vehicles Launch Smallsats to Custom Orbital Destinations

Sherpa Program: New Orbital Transfer Vehicles Launch Smallsats to Custom Orbital Destinations

In-space transportation is essential to get your spacecraft delivered to orbit exactly when and where you want it. But when an ideal launch doesn’t exist, you need viable options to achieve orbital diversification including flexible manifest changes, deployment to multiple altitudes and orbital planes, and rapid launch solutions.

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-NG (next generation) program delivers it all. Our Sherpa family of space vehicles are designed to minimize development timelines while maximizing flight and schedule reliability and mission assurance. They are designed to interface with most launch vehicles via a 24″ interface port.

The Spaceflight team readies Sherpa-LTE1 for flight on board SXRS-5 / Transporter-2.

If typical rideshare is buying a seat on an airplane headed to a popular destination, our Sherpa program provides the last leg of the journey from the airport to your job site — a complete transportation service that takes you all the way to your final destination — whether that’s LEO, trans-lunar and low-lunar orbits, or beyond to geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO).


Sherpa-FX: “Go Now”

01//Sherpa-FX: “Go Now”

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-FX is the first innovative orbital transfer vehicle to debut in the company’s Sherpa-NG program. The vehicle is capable of executing multiple deployments, providing independent and detailed deployment telemetry, and flexible interfaces, all at a low cost.


  • Successful mission onboard SpaceX Transporter-1 (January 2021; SXRS-3), Transporter-2 (June 2021; SXRS-5)
  • 24” ESPA-class deployment system
  • Multiple deployments: Separates from a launch vehicle prior to deploying any satellites, with satellite separations initiated by onboard avionics once clear of the launch vehicle
  • Hosted payload capable
  • Quickly configurable; can move from vehicle-to-vehicle and mission-to-mission
  • Independent, world-wide telemetry via GlobalStar
  • Uses heritage and commercially available components
  • Low cost, flexible aggregation
  • On orbit life: 4-7 years


Sherpa-AC: “Host & Go”

02//Sherpa-AC: “Host & Go”

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-AC augments our base Sherpa model (the free flying Sherpa-FX) with key capabilities including a flight computer, attitude knowledge & control making it ideal for servicing hosted payloads.


  • Multiple deployments from known attitudes
  • Optimized for hosted payloads
  • Power and data connections to hosted payload
  • Attitude and thermal knowledge/control with hosted payload
  • On orbit life: Over 1 year


Sherpa-LTC: “Go Fast”

03//Sherpa-LTC: “Go Fast”

Designed with launch vehicle flexibility as a requirement, the Sherpa-LTC features a high thrust, bi-propellant, green propulsion subsystem 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. It’s compatible with all launch vehicles Spaceflight currently works with.


  • Flying: Second half 2021; SXRS-6
  • Addresses orbit raise and lowering, in-plane phasing and exploration missions
  • Features chemical propulsion system via a Benchmark Space Systems
  • Hosted payload capable
  • Impulsive (fast) maneuvering
  • Tuned for SpaceX Starlink and other similar missions – effectively and quickly deploy one or multiple satellites to higher orbits after initial drop off
  • Industry-leading price


Sherpa-LTE: “Go Far”

04//Sherpa-LTE: “Go Far”

This Electric Propulsion OTV builds on the initial Sherpa program by incorporating a high specific impulse (Isp), Xenon propellant. It incorporates 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 has the capability to deliver spacecraft to GEO, Cislunar, or Earth-escape orbits. The Sherpa-LTE provides a low-cost alternative to purchasing full direct-inject launch vehicles and extends the ability of small launch vehicles that are currently under development to reach beyond low Earth orbit.


  • Successful first flight: June 2021; SXRS-5
  • Sherpa-LTE addresses LTAN and plane changes
  • High dV orbit raise capability, inclination changes or Earth escape
  • High Isp, Xenon propellant electric propulsion from Apollo Fusion enables efficient maneuvering needed for orbital angle changes
  • Hosted payload capable
  • 3X the performance of other market options, including improved flexibility and operational resilience


Sherpa-ES: "Go Beyond"

05//Sherpa-ES: "Go Beyond"

Spaceflight’s newest propulsive OTV, Sherpa-ES, which is the higher energy variant of the Sherpa-NG product line. Sherpa-ES is a bipropellant, high delta-V OTV that will enable small satellite delivery anywhere in cislunar space, including injection to trans- and low-Lunar orbits and GEO. It leverages the same modular structure of the Sherpa-NG family for increased flexibility and rapid time to flight. Specifically tuned for GTO missions, it features high dV orbit raise and inclination change capabilities and can serve as a hosted payload platform.


  • Flying on Spaceflight’s GEO Pathfinder mission on board Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 South Pole Mission slated for 2023
  • Will execute rideshare deployments in trans-lunar orbit, low-lunar orbit and beyond to GEO
  • Hosted payload capable
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