SpaceX is set to launch 114 payloads into orbit on Falcon 9, the sixth mission of its SmallSat rideshare program, tomorrow morning. Although the rocket company is now an old hand at launches — SpaceX is wrapping up a record year with 61 launches in 2022 alone — for a handful of space startups, Transporter-6 represents a milestone.
That includes startups Launcher, which is conducting its first space shuttle mission; A technical demonstration in a launch orbit Vote; And epic spaceIt launches a space shuttle for the first time.
Launcher CEO Max Haot told TechCrunch that after SpaceX launched its rideshare program, the company realized there was a huge market opportunity to develop space traction, which dramatically lowered launch costs. The launcher’s drag, called an arbiter, deploys or hosts the payload to 10 separate clients. The company is also developing a small launch vehicle; The orbiter will be its third stage.
Space tugs fill a market segment for customers who need a specific orbit, but want to pay less than the cost of a dedicated rocket launch, Hott said.
“If you need a specific orbit at a higher cost, there’s always going to be a need for a dedicated rocket, and eventually we’ll compete there, but space traction really helps make these rideshare flights more useful because you can reach more than just one orbit,” he said.
The launcher isn’t the only company with its eye on the growing space traction market. Epic Aerospace, a space transportation network company, will introduce a tug for the first time on Transporter-6. Space services companies Momentus, D-Orbit and Exolaunch will also deploy or host satellites for clients on the mission.
The space duck market may seem like it’s already crowded with players, but the ultimate winners have not been decided, Hott said.
“If you look at the press, it seems like a lot of companies are building space tugs. But if you look at the customers, it’s very new and no one has yet demonstrated a large transmission capacity that would be useful for satellite companies,” he said.
Magdrive, a UK-based start-up that develops high-thrust spacecraft propulsion, is heading into space for the first time for an in-orbit technology demonstration. The prototype propulsion system receives power from onboard solar panels, stores it, and discharges it at different power levels.
“The mission will last 12 months, but we aim to try as many charge and discharge options as possible, so we get as much data as we can,” Magdrive CEO Mark Stokes told TechCrunch.
Transporter-6 is scheduled to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:56 a.m. EST. It was the fifteenth flight of the Falcon 9 booster, known as B1060. Transporter-6 will carry satellites for Planet Labs and Spire Global, as well as other payloads for scientific, research and commercial customers.
The launch will be streamed live on the SpaceX website.