Startups set to head into space for the first time on SpaceX’s Transporter-6 mission • TechCrunch

Startups set to head into space for the first time on SpaceX’s Transporter-6 mission • TechCrunch

Startups set to head into space for the first time on SpaceX's Transporter-6 mission • TechCrunch

SpaceX is set to launch 114 payloads into orbit on a Falcon 9 tomorrow morning, the sixth mission in its smallsat rideshare program. But while the rocket company is now a launch regular — SpaceX just wrapped up a record year with 61 launches in 2022 alone — for a handful of space startups, Transporter-6 marks a milestone.

These startups include Launcher, which is conducting its first space tug mission; an inaugural in-orbit technology demonstration from Magdrive; and Epic Aerospace, which is also launching a space tug for the first time.

Launcher CEO Max Haot told TechCrunch the company realized there was a big market opportunity to develop a space tug after SpaceX launched its rideshare program, which significantly reduced the launch cost. The launcher’s tug, called Orbiter, will deploy or host the payload for 10 separate customers. The company is also developing a small launcher; 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, Haot said.

“There’s always a need for a dedicated rocket if you need a specific orbit at a higher price, and eventually we’ll compete for that, but the space tug really helps make those rideshare flights more useful because you can reach more than one orbit,” he said.

Launcher isn’t the only company with an eye on the emerging space tug market. Epic Aerospace, which bills itself as a space transportation network company, will also launch a tug on Transporter-6 for the first time. Space services companies Momentus, D-Orbit and Exolaunch will also deploy or host satellites for customers on this mission.

It may seem like the space tug market is already crowded with players, but Haot said the ultimate winners are far from decided.

Picture credits: Launcher/John Kraus/Flickr (Opens in a new window)

“If you look at the news articles, it looks like a lot of companies are building space tugs. But if you look at the customers, it’s very new and no one has really demonstrated a large transfer capability that’s useful to satellite companies yet” , did he declare.

Magdrive, a UK-based startup developing a high-thrust spacecraft propulsion engine, will also head to space for the first time for an in-orbit technology demonstration. The prototype propulsion system will draw energy from onboard solar panels, store it and discharge it at different power levels.

“The mission lasts 12 months, but we will aim to try as many charge and discharge options as soon as possible in order to get as much data as possible,” Magdrive CEO Mark Stokes told TechCrunch.

Transporter-6 is scheduled to lift off at 9:56 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This will be the fifteenth flight of the Falcon 9 booster named B1060. Transporter-6 will also 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 SpaceX’s website.


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