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Payload Mobile

Good morning. Breaking the fourth wall to extend a warm welcome to Rachael Zisk, our fourth employee, who joined the Payload rocket ship yesterday. You’ll hear more from her soon, but for now, a quick word from Rachael: 

Hi everyone! I’m Rachael, a journalist who has covered insurance, tech, genomics, and general-interest science stories. I’m excited to go full-time on the space beat and build Payload into the best industry resource out there. As always, you can reply to this email with tips…or your best obscure space trivia. Would love to hear from you. 

Today’s newsletter: 
🦾 Orbital tugs
📊 Launch breakdown
🔄 On the move

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 Space Piggybacking 

Render of Sherpa-LTC1. Via Spaceflight Inc.

This morning, rideshare provider Spaceflight Inc. announced its newest mission: “SXRS-6.” In January, Spaceflight’s new Sherpa vehicle will launch on the SpaceX Transporter-3 rideshare mission. The Sherpa will carry 13 customer payloads. 

  1. After deploying from a SpaceX Falcon 9, the Sherpa will drop off nine customer SmallSats in sun-synchronous orbit. A month later, the vehicle will fire its thrusters, maneuver ~25km closer to Earth, and drop off four customer CubeSats. If all goes well, SXRS-6 will be the first time a Sherpa vehicle drops off customer payloads in two separate orbits. 
  2. Another first: Sherpa-LTC1, SXRS-6’s new orbital transfer vehicle (OTV), will rely on a chemical propulsion system, enabling more thrust and faster maneuvers. 
  3. As it graduates from piggyback rideshares to orbital transfers, Spaceflight has Spaceflight heritage to lean on. It’s helped deploy 385 satellites, weighing a collective 4,900kg, across a network of 10 rocket families.  

Iterate and integrate: Sherpa-LTC1 is Spaceflight’s third new vehicle within the last year. “We’ve been [taking] incremental steps,” SXRS-6 Mission Director Ryan Olcott told Payload, adding avionics systems, propulsion, and other parts into successive Sherpa generations. The Seattle company’s new OTV is “a big step,” Olcott said…

…and “a stepping stone.” SXRS-6 will help Spaceflight prove out chemical propulsion and prepare for a lunar slingshot mission. The company’s north star = placing customer craft “anywhere” around Earth and the moon, per Olcott. 

The business model: Spaceflight essentially fractionalizes a launch ticket, buying excess rocket capacity and serving as an aggregator for multiple customers. It’s “kind of like an engineering arbitration play,” Olcott said, with the value-add of managing rideshare logistics and providing last-mile, in-space delivery. 

The wider market: As other companies work toward their own OTVs, more in-space transporters are (eventually) coming. While that could potentially crimp Spaceflight margins, competitive pressure “can be a healthy thing,” Olcott said, and an influx of newcomers is “validating for us.”

 A Who’s Who of Q3 Orbital Launches

Graph: BryceTech

BryceTech has released its latest quarterly briefing on rocket launches and satellite deployments from around the world. 

By launch frequency (total spacecraft #s in parentheses)…

  1. China’s CASC led Q3 with 15 orbital launches (and 30 total spacecraft launched)
  2. Arianespace conducted five launches (but transported the most spacecraft—111—of any provider)
  3. SpaceX took bronze, with three orbital trips (and 61 spacecraft launched)

CASC also finished first in the upmass category, with 45,010 kg in Q3 (vs. SpaceX’s 32,634 and Arianespace’s 25,881).

Responding to CNBC’s Michael Sheetz, Elon Musk tweeted that SpaceX carried 41 tons (~37,200kg) of payload mass to orbit in July, August, and September of this year—and that SpaceX aims to double that this quarter. He also said: “China launch mass to orbit is extremely impressive.”

  • Countering market research and complimenting space programs via Twitter…Is this as declassified as it gets in space? 

A sign of the times? Of the 226 craft launched in Q3 (and tracked by BryceTech), ~82% are operated by commercial players. 


Firefly Aerospace provides cost-effective, convenient access to space for both full-vehicle and ride-share missions. Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle is capable of delivering 1,000 kg to LEO and 630 kg to 500 km SSO.

Email [email protected] to discuss your mission!

In Other News

  • Virgin Galactic ($SPCE) Q3 recap: 100 buyers at the new-ish $450k price point (~700 total ticket holders), $2.6M in quarterly revenue, and a net loss of $48M. Virgin sizably narrowed losses, as it lost $94M in Q2. 
  • OneWeb and NEOM’s joint venture signed its first distribution agreement with Pakistani telco REDtone. More on the joint venture here
  • Crew-2 splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ingenuity successfully flew its 15th flight on Mars. 
  • New research, drawing on a study of five male cosmonauts, suggests the human brain changes noticeably after extended stays in space.

On the Move

  • BlackSky named Amy Minnick as its chief commercial officer. 
  • The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) announced its new board of directors. Caryn Schenewerk was elected chair. 
  • Firefly appointed former US Air Force Colonel Jason B. Mello president of its space transport services subsidiary.
  • Aphelion Aerospace added Edward Mango, a former program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, to its board. 
  • Stratolaunch announced that former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and ex Boeing exec Kamiar Karimi have joined its board of directors.

🎙️ Pod Plug 🎙️

Payload CEO Mo Islam was the guest on a recent episode of the Space Business Podcast. Mo spent time with host and space investor Raphael Roettgen, dishing knowledge on industry trends, his past life as a banker, the future of space media, and how we see the content ecosystem evolving. Check out the episode here