AMS Spring 2023

Launcher’s New Orbital Transfer Vehicle to Rideshare on SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2022

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Launcher’s new orbit transfer vehicle (OTV) will debut on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare for its inaugural flight to Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) in October 2022. Known as Launcher Orbiter, the new spacecraft will be compatible with both SpaceX’s reusable medium-lift rocket as well as Launcher’s own dedicated small launch vehicle, the Launcher Light. Like most of the space startup’s innovative manufacturing designs, Orbiter will also feature 3D printed parts. So far, the company has revealed that the autonomous spacecraft’s propulsion system will use a 3D printed propellant tank, combustion chamber, and injector.

The majority of Orbiter’s components are designed and manufactured in-house at its brand new headquarters in California, ensuring competitive pricing for customers. This major advantage gives Launcher an edge over other emerging startups developing next-generation OTVs and large corporations that tend to dominate the space industry, like Spaceflight Industries or Ad Astra Rocket Company. Furthermore, Orbiter is not only a universal OTV but also a satellite platform, interoperable with the aforementioned launch vehicles via a common 24-inch ESPA Grande adapter ring for launching secondary payloads on orbital launch vehicles.

Capable of carrying up to 150 kg of customer satellite payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) in a modular stack of CubeSat deployers, Orbiter can also be configured to accommodate small satellite payloads directly on an integration surface compatible with small satellite separation systems. In addition, Orbiter is equipped with Launcher’s signature combination of high-performance, low-cost, high-thrust chemical propulsion that allows customers to customize their payload orbit according to their mission needs.

Rendering of Launcher Orbiter releasing two CubeSats. Image courtesy of Launcher.

Launcher Founder and CEO Max Haot said, “Orbiter delivers the best of both worlds: the ability to maximize and tailor launch opportunities for your constellation using SpaceX’s rideshare program, as well as the option to design additional complementary missions on a small, dedicated Launcher rocket when orbit requirements or schedules dictate. Customers benefit from working with the same partner, mission team, contract, qualification, and regulatory processes, satellite interface, and orbital transfer vehicle hardware and software platform.”

With Orbiter, small satellite constellation developers can take advantage of the SpaceX rideshare program’s rapid cadence and unprecedented price point to build their constellation at optimum cost and timing. To complete their constellation with additional orbits and schedules, customers can also purchase a launch service with Orbiter for a dedicated ride to orbit on Launcher Light – slated for its first flight in 2024 – just like a non-stop delivery service to their operational orbit. The low-cost, small rocket is expected to be powered by a single Launcher Engine-2 (E-2) on its first stage and have Orbiter as its third stage.

Designed as a long-term mission satellite platform from the ground up, Orbiter will support both short-term missions with precision payload release and long-duration missions with hosted payloads and access to high-speed payload communication, power, attitude control, thermal management, propulsion, and full ground control and communication service provided by Launcher.

Launcher inaugurated its 24,000 sqft headquarters and factory in California on June 17, 2021, where it will build ships that leave Earth and explore the stars. Image courtesy of Launcher via LinkedIn.

Originally located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, Launcher moved into its new 24,000 square feet headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on June 16, 2021, where it will build its orbital-bound spaceships, including the Launcher Light and Orbiter. Aspiring to be one of the leading startups in the small satellite launch vehicle industry, Launcher is raising funds, growing its team, and expanding its factory floor, which is already up and running. The floor has been equipped with 3D printing tools from VELO3D, as well as Sodick’s ALN800G, a large-size wire-cut EDM (electrical discharge machining) system that is operational and cutting Launcher’s 3D printed E-2 engine combustion chamber off the build plate, as reported by Sodick Territory Sales Manager Jim Alles.

The Sodick ALN800G is operational and already cutting 3D printed E-2 engine combustion chambers off the build plate. Image courtesy of Sodick via LinkedIn.

During most of 2020, the space industry has thrived, and 2021 should be no different. Early-stage space venture capital firm Space Capital reported that 2020 turned out to be a record year for space investment despite expectations that the industry would be hit hard by the pandemic. With a new annual record of $8.9 million, companies planning to be part of the ecosystem that will drive off-Earth exploration in the coming decade are hauling in serious funding from renowned venture capital firms as they count down to blast off dozens of new launch vehicles.

Like many others in a growing field, Launcher has been trying to disrupt rocket manufacturing with advanced technologies for faster in-house design and production, particularly of its 3D printed rocket engine and other complex parts. With Orbiter, the company achieves a robust short-term offering for the small satellite launcher vehicle market; we just have to wait until 2022 to see it in action.

Launcher inaugurated its 24,000 sq. ft. headquarters and factory in California on June 17, 2021, where it will build ships that leave Earth and explore the stars. Image courtesy of Launcher via LinkedIn.

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