SpaceX rolled out the SmallSat Rideshare Program to allow companies with a smaller budget to launch small satellites to space destinations by sharing spacecraft with a larger payload during a mission for a price tag starting at $1 million. Purchasing a Falcon 9 rocket flight can cost about $60 million. Momentus, a company that provides transportation services in space like a taxi, selected SpaceX to launch satellites for its customers. “In the past, SmallSat operators had to squeeze in alongside larger, more expensive equipment that would dictate the launch schedule. By augmenting SpaceX’s innovative ride-sharing program, Momentus is saving time and money for SmallSat operators to reach a given destination orbit…opening up space for a new era,” Momentus representatives stated.
Momentus announced it will deploy a CubeSat for OrbAstro, a United Kingdom start-up developing software and hardware for satellites to operate in groups, or 'large flocks.' The mission is scheduled for February 2021. Momentus will enclose OrbAstro’s three-unit CubeSat in its Vigoride orbit transfer vehicle (pictured above), which is like a ‘space taxi.’ SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will drop-off the crafts in space. Vigoride, will transport OrbAstro’s CubeSat from the drop-off point in low Earth orbit, up to an altitude of 2,000 kilometers. Vigoride is capable of carrying satellites with masses up to 250 kilograms. Momentus Chief Executive Officer Mikhail Kokorich said in a statement:
“We are excited to see OrbAstro working on developing key technologies that could really enable flocks of satellites to be in close proximity of each other. In the future, this [technology] may enable Momentus to do rendezvous and proximity operations for refueling, satellite servicing, repositioning, and more.”
The deployment of the three-unit CubeSat aims to demonstrate a variety of technologies created by engineers at OrbAstro. One of the features they will test out is an UltraScale+ high-performance computer that features an artificial intelligence neural network to manage a constellation group of satellites. OrbAstro’s founder Ash DoveJay said that after the CubeSat's demonstration the company plans to launch a cluster of nanosatellites to test out other technology – “Following this [in-orbit demonstration], we expect to launch a small cluster of formation-flying nanosatellites to de-risk all remaining technologies under development before scaling up to our constellation aspirations. Momentus strikes us as an ideal partner going forwards; their flexible approach, large launch manifest, and ability to transfer us to a nominal orbit is unmatched,” Dove-Jay said.